Germany to enable mobile operators to broadcast alerts after flood disaster

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People help to clean up following heavy rainfalls, in Bad Muenstereifel, North Rhine-Westphalia state, Germany, July 21, 2021. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen/File Photo

BERLIN, July 23 (Reuters) - Germany will enable mobile operators to broadcast emergency warnings by text message to specific geographic regions, a technology that has existed for decades but which Germany has always resisted over privacy concerns.

The government has faced growing calls to switch on the technology since last week's catastrophic floods, which killed at least 180 people. Some argued that text alerts would have given people a better chance of reaching safety in time.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told ARD public television that he had now given the order for the introduction of a system allowing emergency warnings to be broadcast to all mobile phones connected to a particular local network antenna.

"Warnings to the population have to get through, on all channels," he said, adding that short text messages could only complement Germany's existing emergency warning systems, which include sirens, a smartphone app called NINA and radio.

"If you are woken up at night, you have to know immediately what has happened and what you have to do," he said.

Germany has some of the strictest privacy laws in the world, reflecting sensitivity around any kind of surveillance in a country that endured 20th century totalitarianism under Hitler's Nazis and the East German Communists.

Reporting by Thomas Escritt Editing by Frances Kerry

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