Safety in Application: Switzerland’s Frivolous Civil Defence Plan

Peace and security

In the Autumn of 2017, Switzerland’s federal police plan to launch an application that will warn its residents of a disaster or attack to better inform and update the country in times of crisis. Unfortunately, it’s going to be too expensive, fruitless and worse yet, intrusive.

The smartphone application market, currently predicated to be worth over $40 billion, is one of the fastest growing markets alive. As we gain ever-increasing dependency on our smartphones, and they in turn gain an ever-increasing presence in our lives, it is not only game and media moguls who are directing their attention to this trend. In July 2016, the 20 Minutes reported that the The Federal Office for Civil Protection (FOCP) are developing an application that could cost up to CHF 500,000 to alert its users of a crisis situation.

Having been made more aware of the effectiveness of mobile technology in such a situation subsequent to the Munich lone-wolf attack in July, where a software called Katwarn allegedly played an important role in informing citizens of the then unfolding attack; the Swiss government now believes it be the best course of action to create similar application—but they’re wrong.

Lesson of Munich

According to The Local, the new application will be based upon an already existing app that boast a meagre 38,000 downloads (or 0.5% of the Swiss population). But despite the fact that the “government hopes the new version will be even more widely used”, the likelihood of that ever happening is next to none. During the climax of the Munich attack a message alert was indeed sent out via the Katwarn application, but in the heat of the moment when only vague reports of an attack were available it was social networks such as Twitter & Facebook where desperate civilians sought their information. Realistically, a single messaging service which is also dependent on human reporting fails to compete with an interactive platform that connects people together, which, after establishing one’s own safety, solves our primary concern—reaching our loved ones.

But more concretely, the application is probable to fail due to a more alarming issue: it’s intrusive. The idea of the government sitting our pockets with the ability to whimsically command our attention is an unpleasant one to say the least, not least unnecessary. The only possible benefit a customised application could provide is a pop-up notification system, something which already exists and is provided by several news apps already available, in which case the government then plays the role of reporter and again undoubtedly finds itself outdone; as was case in Munich. It was revealed by Time that during the attack in the mall false information was disseminated by the city police’s official Twitter account, ranging from an incorrect number of suspects—the police announced multiple shooters when there was only one—and incorrect a number of incidents—the police reported several attacks around the city with many areas affected when, again, it was only one incident.

An application that informs the user of a national emergency at face value serves as a nice gimmick, assuming the people want one (though current download statistics tell otherwise), but whether this is just a guise for more government dependancy or be it that the government wants serve as a verifiable source of information in times of crisis, they are essentially applying to do a job that hasn’t been asked of them, which we have to pay for and which is done quite efficiently elsewhere. Fortunately, it’s unlikely that this download will be compulsory, in which case the government would be better of spending taxpayers’ money elsewhere.