back to article Insurance firm Admiral fails to grab phone location data of 'fraud' claimant's mother

Admiral, the UK-based insurance company, has been refused legal access to a non-customer's mobile phone location data after claiming it would help decide whether or not a policyholder was committing fraud. The Court of Appeal of England and Wales' previously unnoticed decision comes as a similar one in Germany this week raises …

  1. Chris G

    I can't say I am impressed with Vodaphone's willingness to give up someone'a call details to a random barrister without a court order.

    Having been a customer, I have always had the feeling that customers are not at the top of their priority list.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It depends on which country you're in, but where I am I would sue the bejeezus out of them if they gave up that information without a full Court order.

      In my opinion, that sort of data should only be accessible after an order from the Court, and that in turn should be the result of a police request, not because some private entity has some suspicions. This is not because I expect the police to have higher standards (let's just say that that varies between countries and even counties), but because this is the correct, well established legal pathway that ensures that not every Tom, Dick and Harry can just gain access to such information.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Deep pockets?

        "I would sue the bejeezus out of them if they gave up that information without a full Court order."

        Vodafone would likely spend a lot on lawyers, they have no shame.

      2. iron Silver badge

        Your mobile operator already sells your location data to every Tom, Dick & Jane and has done for decades. If you live / work in a city the public transport providers are all monitoring your phone location data, as are shopping malls and god knows who else because the telcos aren't volunteering that info in public.

    2. Jon 37

      But, the article says that Admiral were applying for a court order to get the details from Vodafone. So doesn't that mean that Vodafone REFUSED "to give up someone's call details to a random barrister without a court order"???

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Reading is not a prerequisite for outrage.

        Vodafone weren't objecting to the legal process, and this shows why they didn't need to. Our courts are still vaguely sane.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          That's the way I read. Vodafone would supply what the court ordered. Also that Admiral's request may have been too broad. If it was to establish location, the request location. Wanting message contents, or even CDRs seems like fishing.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            I'm still puzzled that a private entity can go to Court for this data.

            That should really only be available as part of a police or government investigation, not as some data any private entity can request for a vaguely plausible reason and (I note) without any reference to the rights of the third party the data is requested from, nor with any input from them so that they have the opportunity to object and possibly request sanctions for even trying.

            No, no, NO.

            1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

              Investigations would get a lot harder if the investigation target knew, and could object.

              But I kind of agree. The update to RIPA reduced a lot of entities that had previously used & abused surveillance powers. System isn't perfect, and it's a delicate balancing act between the need to detect and prevent crimes, and a right to privacy. Having a court weigh up whether a request is reasonable, proportionate or just legal, helps.

              To me, the biggest problem is on the commercial side. Can't get a court order? Get an account with one of the many data slurpers & aggregators that claim to provide location services and more. Don't even need to provide your credit card details because a good one would know yours already. And they're far less regulated.

              I am kind of curious though. I generally think of fraud as a criminal matter, so how the split works between criminal and civil fraud cases. But insurance fraud isn't a victimless crime, so insurers need ways to discourage it.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                He may be already in the hole financially, and be a marked man. No need to beat his mother.

                In fact, assuming he actually did pay his parents, the insurance company just feels that shouldn't count, even though they have ap'parent contractual obligation to pay, because he may or may not eventually inherit the money. The accused probably had proof of repair and payment of rent - or we would know. So they just decided to make life difficult for him through harassment of his mother, rather than trying to make the actual case that paying parents should not count, because it was easier and it has worked before. It could be that the judge(s) recognized this strategy as harassment, and their decision was influenced more by that then the abstract concept of digital privacy.

                Already the accused may be in the hole due to legal expenses. At least here in the US, property insurers have great leeway to refuse service, as many people in CA have discovered as their contracts were cancelled if they lived in fire-risk zone, which sometimes seems an arbitrary decision when their neighbor hasn't had it cancelled. Furthermore, in this day and age, I am imagine once refused, at least in the US, this customers name (the one accused of fraud) would be on an industry blacklist, making insurance more expensive, or impossible to get.

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Parallel Construction

                After obtaining evidence showing their hypothesis is correct from a dubious source which can't be used as evidence in court they attempt to obtain evidence from a more reliable source.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Parallel Construction

                  English courts don’t care how evidence was obtained, it is still admissible.

                  1. JamesTGrant

                    Re: Parallel Construction

                    They certainly do care, a lot! And whilst we generally only hear about the obviously guilty getting away with it due to key evidence being improperly obtained and hence inadmissible, it’s generally a jolly good protection - it protects the powerless from the powerful.

                    1. Anonymous Coward
                      Anonymous Coward

                      Re: Parallel Construction

                      Afraid they do not, at least for that case. There can be a case opened against those who have carried out the action obviously.


                      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

                        Re: Parallel Construction

                        The fun one is "breach of privacy" type cases such as CCTV being published of a crime being committed without blurring faces of the miscreants

                        In that case, the only people with standing are the identifiable ones and they have to be willing to stand in front of a judge and say "yes, this footage is of me and I'd like it removed from public view"

                        At which point they've effectively put a noose around their own neck (and there were/are exemptions to privacy laws when it comes to identification for criminal behaviour etc)

              3. Ian Johnston Silver badge

                Investigations would get a lot harder if the investigation target knew, and could object.

                Social workers have to give notice when they visit children about whom they have concerns. As we have seen twice recently, it's a policy which makes work for the coroner.

            2. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

              @AC, Yes yes yes

              In the US, in civil cases, there is a court supervised discovery phase. The two sides legal counsel can, for example, ask the court to issue the proper subpoenas to compel people to be interviewed under oath by the opposing lawyers. Those interviews are recorded, or in the old days, a stenographer would record the interviews. The lawyers can also ask the court to compel the other side to turn over documents, electronic records, and stuff like that. In the US all lawyers are “officers of the court” and so if they take part in any shenanigans to avoid discovery, they not only can go to jail, they can be disbarred which means they cannot be lawyers anymore. (In the US, technically you cannot claim you are a lawyer or practice law unless you are a member of the bar in good standing. Having a JD isn’t sufficient.) Violating discovery orders is a criminal act, and depending on exactly how you violated it, you will be guilty of contempt, perjury, or both. And you can automatically lose your case, and tin foil hatter Alex Jones learned recently.


              Most of the scenes in the movie "The Social Network" where the various Facebook founders were telling their versions of how Facebook came to be was a recreation of the discovery phase interviews of lawsuits between the founders. (The recreation was based on the recordings made during discovery.)

          2. John Robson Silver badge

            Wanting to establish that they stopped calling their mum three times a week however, possibly indicates that they were communicating in some other way (like on the sofa).

            If they allowed for "half market rate" rental if you had family to stay with then we'd all be better off...

            1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

              There's a difference between staying with family, and renting family's rental property.

              If you're suggesting paying half market rates to those who stay with family for nothing, then I still disagree - it should be full market rates for a reasonable alternative if your accommodation is uninhabitable (and insured, natch), whether you spend the money on that, or choose to blow it on crack and hookers and spend the nights under a bridge.

              1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

                spend the nights under a bridge

                I agree if your accommodation is uninhabitable, you should get the rent back. No doubt the insurance company has a different view, but having a different view than the insurance company is not fraud.

                Fraud would be that your accommodation is habitable, you can't get out of the lease, so you move back in with your folks and claim the rent on insurance. Other variations on that scenario are possible.

                Glad to see this one shot down in court, though. The insurance company is also being a bit "fraudulent" about the basis for requesting the data.

              2. John Robson Silver badge

                You make a good point - but I still suspect that there is scope to make everyone happier about the situation by having an agreed direct payout - slightly less than the rent would cost (so the insurance company is happy) and you get a payout that is clearly not fraudulent. Now if your mum runs a B&B and you take a room long term… then absolutely it should be full market rate.

                If they regularly have a lodger, but you take that room - full market rate.

                1. jollyboyspecial Silver badge

                  Some folks above seem to be missing the point. Vodafone for not give up the b days without ba fight. They said they would not contest the granting of the NPO.

                  In other words what they were saying is that they would give up the data as amd when they were ordered to by a court.

                  I genuinely do not see how you can get from Vodafone's started position to saying they were willing to give up the data without a fight.

                  The problem here is that Admiral were misusing an NPO to try to circumvent the correct process. That Vodafone stated that they would not contest the order is not at all unusual.

    3. Bruce Ordway

      phone call and location details

      "...not just a reference source, available on demand..."

      Hopefully insurance companies, credit agencies, etc... will always have to go thru the legal process.

      My opinion... these entities have already been given too much leeway to operate as legal "rackets" already.

      At least here in the U.S.

  2. spireite Silver badge

    ...but where would it stop if granted?

    And if they found no records on the mobile, would they then want to check Skype on a laptop or any other digital device?

    Look toi see if a VPN was activated to make it look like they were somewhere else?

  3. lglethal Silver badge


    If they were claiming a water leak and saying they couldnt stay there because of it, well I can think of a few steps to take before checking phone records.

    Talking to the Plumber who stopped the leak, about how much damage there was, and whether someone could still live there (and only the dodgies of dodgy plumber is going to lie to the insurance companies and risk finding themselves blacklisted).

    Sending someone around to see if the flat was occupied.

    Talking to the neighbours.

    List seems pretty long and easy (and cheap) compared to paying for some lawyers to get a court order to get some, maybe useful-maybe not, phone data.

    1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

      Re: Hmmm...

      Right, but I think they are trying to investigate the whereabouts of the parents over long and continuous stretches of time. Might be easy to find a witness who said they saw them, but that doesn't help. Paul Drake could have found the witness who saw everything and established the time line.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Hmmm...

        Thumbs up for the Perry Mason reference :-)

    2. teknopaul Silver badge

      Re: Hmmm...

      I think the fraud was that the parents claimed rent. I interpreted it as a scam where mum and dad claimed not to be at home and have rented the house to thir kid while actually living in their own house the whole while.

      Not sure if it matters if the claimant was living there at the same time? The scam is moving money from the insurance company to mum and dad.

      I didn't think the leak was fraudulent.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hmmm...

      A private detective is not cheap, and they would still have to gather and prepare legal evidence, which would then be presented in court, by lawyers. Simply taking the issue to court and threatening to involve the mother with an accusation of fraud is far cheaper. The insurers spent 2K to 5K, and the accused man has to pay something similar to his lawyer. He much did he pay in rent? Probably less than 2K for the time to fix a leak. If he tries to turn the tables and claim costs - it's a bad look that he was paying his parents.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Hmmm...

        Could look even worse claiming costs and it turns out one of his parents was the lawyer acting for free for him too!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yes, phone location data gives where one probably was, but only probably. Obviously, other corroborating evidence could be damning but of itself, the only thing geolocation logs show is where the phone thought it was, which is not necessarily where the owner was.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Why should the mothers location make a difference? That's the part I cannot understand. Perhaps he said his parents were there - but even if he was lying rent is rent, so it not directly related.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        I think they are trying to prove that he was staying with his parents at their home, rather than renting a house from his parents.

        If he was staying with his parents at their home he is incurring lesser costs than using a house that his parents could otherwise be gaining income from if they were able to rent it out.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          But would that really be fraud? If policy says they can claim cost for alternative accommodation, insurer should pay. If the claim was for £200 a night to stay in a London hotel and they were staying for free with their parents, then that would seem fraudulent. I guess it depends on what was in the policy and claim. Would perhaps be simpler if the insurers just stated a max per diem instead.

  5. DS999 Silver badge

    A judge suggested checking with the milkman?

    Apparently the UK has 100+ year old judges still on the bench?

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: A judge suggested checking with the milkman?

      Whilst they are rarer than when I was a youngster, they do still exist in some areas.

      1. katrinab Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: A judge suggested checking with the milkman?

        The “milkman” these days is Ocado / Tesco home delivery or similar.

        Or Asda [Asquith Dairies], until recently part of the Walmart group.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: A judge suggested checking with the milkman?

          Not always. There are still small/independents operating. They tend to deliver more than just milk too. Some even do parcel delivery.

        2. Adrian 4

          Re: A judge suggested checking with the milkman?

          Wsn't it Associated Dairies ? Or was Asquith an earlier incarnation ?

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: A judge suggested checking with the milkman?

            Both, Asquith butchers and Associated Dairies joined together to create Asda.

      2. Mrs Spartacus

        Re: A judge suggested checking with the milkman?

        My neighbour (lady in her 70's) gets her milk delivered twice a week by a local "milkman" in his car - he's the local dairy farmer. At 5am I'm woken by him screeching up, radio blaring (he likes the news), and whistling loudly (the farmer, not the car).

        The up side is that the milk is delicious. Full cream proper milk, and quite unlike the equivalent in the supermarket. And it comes in real GLASS bottles. Remember those? Happy days.

        I must ask her how much she pays per pint.

        1. Microchip

          Re: A judge suggested checking with the milkman?

          Think mine costs me about 70p a pint delivered. It's not as cheap as a supermarket for sure, but saves me driving there, and is fresh from the farm up the road. Keeps my mate's lad in employment as the local milk boy too, and I feel a bit better about the fact it's being transported about a mile instead of the other side of the country or worse.

          Also, as per the above comment, it genuinely does seem to taste better.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A judge suggested checking with the milkman?

      Dad, why does Mum blush when I mention the milkman?

      1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

        Re: A judge suggested checking with the milkman?

        Especially if I ask when he'll be coming?!?

      2. Rob Daglish

        Re: A judge suggested checking with the milkman?

        Many years ago, I was doing some work in one of the schools I looked after, and having a 5 minute break for coffee in the office. While I was there, the secretary and I were catching up on a few bits of gossip, and she said to me "oh, have you heard XXXXX is pregnant?" I said I hadn't heard, and the secretary started laughing, and said "yes - she's the only person I know who hopes it is the milkman's!" (XXXXXX was in fact married to the local milkman)

  6. Snowy Silver badge

    What would it prove?

    Being at the same address does not show fraud, Mum could have been visiting for a few days!!

  7. spold Silver badge

    Whereas staking the place out with video and facial recognition would have just been peachy.... hmmmm?

  8. Roland6 Silver badge

    And in Germany...

    >"Swiss DNS provider Quad9 lost a legal bid last week to suspend an order forcing it to block DNS lookups for IP addresses of sites Sony Music claimed were hosting pirated albums."

    I wonder if Sony's next step will be to get this converted into an EU judgement, enabling it to go after all EU-based DNS providers. ..

    1. Santa from Exeter

      Re: And in Germany...

      You would have thought that the Judge mifght have demanded some actual proof from Sony, rather that just a wild claim.

      It's not as if sony don't have form.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like