As we reported a number of times last year, the federal government is revamping the emergency alert system and requiring all cell phone manufacturers to comply with the PLAN program (Personal Localized Alerting Network).
PLAN allows the federal government to send emergency alert messages directly to your cell phone. The new program was rolled out in a number of cities late last year, and is now in the process of being fully implemented throughout the country.
A number of mainstream media outlets announced the news with headlines like “FEMA to Begin Sending Weather Alerts to Your Cell Phone.
But is There More to the Story?
While the emergency management community heralds the new Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) as a great technological achievement that will save a number of lives, some in the privacy community are not so sure. It seems the new alert system may have a dark side.
While it’s true that the new WEA system will be able to send weather alerts directly to your cell phone, there are a number of features that have some in the privacy community up in arms.
WEA is part of FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) which already has the ability to send government alerts through satellite, cell phone, digital radio, internet, digital road signs, NOAA Radio and commercial broadcast television. IPAWS, which has been plagued by troubles since its launch, is now drawing criticism after news broke that the new WEA system would be able to follow cellphone users anywhere in the country.
While cell phone users can opt out of receiving the weather alerts, it’s not clear if they will have the ability to opt out of the geo-location features. But not so surprisingly, the location feature may just be the tip of the privacy iceberg.
Make way for Text Messages from the President.
One not so publicized feature of this new WEA system is the presidential alert feature. Without the ability to opt-out, your cell phone will now be able to receive presidential alerts directly from the President of the United States.
In compliance with the National Alerting Program, new cell phones will all be chipped to allow these alerts. For those with older cell phones, software upgrades will be loaded to their phones through the phone’s connection with the cell network.
While government officials insist the Presidential Alerts will only be used in the case of a national emergency, what constitutes a national emergency has yet to be defined.