Swiss army bans WhatsApp due to privacy concerns

Switzerland's army has banned the use of WhatsApp whilst on duty, a spokesman confirmed Thursday, in favour of a Swiss messaging service deemed more secure in terms of data protection.

WhatsApp has been banned for members of the Swiss military. Photo: Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP
WhatsApp has been banned for members of the Swiss military. Photo: Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP

The ban also applies to using other messaging apps like Signal and Telegram on soldiers’ private phones during service operations.

At the end of December, commanders and chiefs of staff received an email from headquarters recommending that their troops switch to using the Swiss-based Threema.

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The recommendation applies “to everyone”, including conscripts doing their military service and those returning for refresher courses, army spokesman Daniel Reist told AFP.

Switzerland is famously neutral.

However, its long-standing position is one of armed neutrality and the landlocked European country has mandatory conscription for men.

READ MORE: Is Switzerland’s male-only mandatory military service ‘discriminatory’?

The question of using messaging apps on duty came up during operations to support hospitals and the vaccination programme in Switzerland’s efforts to control the Covid-19 pandemic, Reist said.

The Swiss army will cover the four Swiss francs ($4.35, 3.85 euros) cost of downloading Threema, which is already used by other public bodies in Switzerland.

Other messaging services such as WhatsApp are subject to the US Cloud Act, which allows the United States authorities to access data held by US operators, even if it is held on servers outside the country.

Threema, which claims 10 million users, says it is an instant messenger designed to generate as little user data as possible.

It is not financed by advertising. “All communication is end-to-end encrypted, and the app is open source,” the company says on its website.

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Swiss army ready to act in worst case migrant scenario

Switzerland has said it is ready to mobilize up to 2,000 soldiers at border crossings should migrants continue to arrive into the country.

Swiss army ready to act in worst case migrant scenario
File photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Swiss federal authorities said they have drawn up three separate scenarios ranging from 10,000 arrivals inside a month to a worst case of 30,000 inside a few days.
The latter “would necessitate army intervention,” the government said.
In a statement on Wednesday the government said it had tasked the defence ministry with putting 2,000 troops on standby for such an eventuality.

The plans, agreed last Thursday, aim to coordinate state, cantonal and communal response in the event of a large influx of people.
While the government noted that for the moment no such military intervention is necessary, it said it wanted to be able to react quickly.

Given the current shifting state of migratory routes “Switzerland could be faced in the coming weeks or months by an influx of people seeking protection,” it told AFP.

During the Kosovo crisis in 1999 Switzerland received 9,600 asylum applications in a single month, it said.

The number of people requesting asylum in Switzerland has dropped in recent months, according to latest figures, however the Swiss federal migration office (SEM) said the situation in Europe was still “volatile” and it could envisage the number of asylum seekers to Switzerland rising again during the course of the year.

Under the emergency plans up to 9,000 beds would be made available for migrants under scenario three.

The SEM has already increased the number of places available from 2,200 to 4,600 over the past year, it said.