Switzerland’s army has banned the use of social media messaging apps WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal and other similar messaging apps on-duty personnel, instead preferring them to use the Swiss-made app Threema.

The rules will mean that Switzerland‘s conscripts doing military service and people returning for refresher courses do not inadvertently expose military information to foreign parties.

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.

According to the spokesman Daniel Reist, professionals in the Swiss Army already use Threema Work, the enterprise edition of the app. Although it is not possible to see the content of end-to-end encrypted messages, the service providers may collect metadata revealing who has messaged whom, and when.

The spokesman said the rule applies to the use of apps on soldiers’ private phones while they are on service operations.

Local news services in Switzerland reported there are no punishments available for soldiers who continue to use other services.

Switzerland remains one of the world’s oldest armed neutral states. Although it has not participated in any foreign wars since 1815, the country maintains conscription and all able-bodied male citizens are obliged to do military service.

The spokesman said the question of messaging apps use came up during operations to support the country’s hospitals and vaccination programme during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unlike US-based apps, Threema is not covered by the US Cloud Act, which could enable American authorities to demand the companies hand over user information in response to a legal request.

With end-to-end encrypted apps, that information could not include message content, however, the service providers could potentially reveal who the users were and details about who was speaking to whom and the size of the messages being shared.

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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