Welfare office used illegal tactics to find cheats
In their fight against social fraud, councils are illegally encouraging residents to send in photographs of their neighbours who they suspect are collecting benefits they are not entitled to.
Udbetaling Danmark – the organisation responsible for paying out some welfare benefits – has stated on the citizens' services website borger.dk since October 2012 that residents can turn in their neighbours by submitting photographs and supplying information using an online form.
The photographs could, for example, show that a neighbour was living with a partner instead of alone as they had claimed in order to collect benefits that they were not entitled to.
But according to legal experts, taking photographs of neighbours in their home is illegal and punishable by up to six months in jail.
“The problem is that it encourages people to take photographs, regardless of where they are,” Sten Shaumburg-Müller, a law professor at the University of Aarhus, told public broadcaster DR. “And if you are in your own house or apartment, you are protected against having your photograph taken. Therefore, [Udbetaling Danmark] is asking people to do something illegal.”
Shaumburg-Müller added that while there were circumstances in which this rule does not apply, such as if a person’s apartment is being broken into by thieves, it is illegal to photograph someone in their home in order to simply prove that they are not eligible for welfare benefits.
Hans Jelstrup, the deputy director ATP, the company that administers Udbetaling Danmark, told DR that he did not know how many residents had submitted photographs of their neighbours, but that he would investigate the situation.
“We need to ensure that people can attach photos or relevant information," Jelstrup said. "But we are not interested in private photographs so we are going to take a look at our website now.”
Following the revelation, libertarian party Liberal Alliance (LA) condemned the practice encouraged by Udebetaling Danmark.
“It’s morally depraved that a public website ignores the individual right to privacy and encourages illegal activity,” LA's political spokesperson, Simon Emil Ammitzbøll, told Berlingske newspaper. “The state was created by and for the people, not the reverse, so this informant culture where neighbours, at the behest of the state, spy on each other, is not welcome. If the authorities cannot expose social fraud without the help of residents and enormous surveillance, then they are not doing their jobs well enough.”
Socialdemokraterne spokesperson Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen agreed that the request to send in photographs crossed a line.
“We should of course speak up if we witness social fraud but it crosses my personal limits to photograph my neighbour through the window blinds,” Halsboe-Jørgensen told Berlingske. “I think it’s important to send a clear signal that is wrong to cheat with society’s money. But it’s also important to strike a balance. Taking photos over the fence is taking things too far.”