Germany’s Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told public broadcaster ARD on Friday that he has given the order for emergency alerts to be sent to cell phones connected to specific local network antenna as needed when a crisis occurs.
While Germans have resisted the introduction of such mechanisms out of privacy concerns, deadly floods last week in western Germany that left at least 180 dead have changed the nature of the public debate as many argue lives could have been saved with proper advance warning.
Seehofer said, “Warnings to the population have to get through on all channels.”
The minister noted that the new system would complement existing emergency notification systems in Germany that include sirens, radio and a smartphone app called NINA.
Experts estimate the rollout will take up to 18 months to be introduced.
What happens next?
The Ministry for Economic Affairs has signaled support for the introduction of emergency text message alerts and the Federal Network Agency, a subordinate agency of the ministry, is already involved.
Telecommunications law in Germany will have to be amended, which can only occur with the approval of the Interior Ministry. The plan must also be approved by the federal parliament.
Armin Schuster, the head of the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance, had already proposed an emergency text message broadcast alert system just a few months after taking office. Schuster’s office will now be responsible for the rollout of the new service.
A privacy concerned public
While the technology to send out emergency alerts via text has existed for some time, Germans have resisted it due to concerns over privacy and scope for surveillance.
The roots of these concerns date back to the country’s experiences with totalitarian ideologies in the twentieth century, first with Nazism under Hitler and then with Soviet-backed communism in the eastern half of the country.
While emergency alerts and surveillance are not the same, the two issues have been conflated as other data privacy concerns around cell phones have been widely reported in the German and international media.
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