You read that correctly, a mandatory National Emergency Alert System is likely coming to your phone. In some cases it’s already there.
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is backing what he calls “PLAN”, which is an acronym for Personal Localized Alert Network. Basically, it’s a system would allow the government to send you alerts via text — whether you like it or not. The goal is for every new phone (not just smartphones) to be brought online as early as April 2012. Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile have already signed on to the PLAN.
So far, other than the “mandatory” part, I’m okay with it. We’ve seen examples of mobile Amber Alerts get the word out about missing children in a given location work very well and save lives. We’ve seen tsunami and earthquake warnings provide at-risk people much needed minutes to get to safety. Those are both opt-in services, not opt-out.
This PLAN would relay messages:
- from the President of the United States of America
- alerting about imminent threats to public safety (from terrorists attacks to severe weather alerts)
-from the Amber Alert system in your area
Currently we can accomplish all these objectives by sending out bulk text messages. We’ve seen it work with Amber Alerts. They’re normal texts targeted at users who have identified themselves to frequent certain areas (home, work, school, etc.).
That’s where this PLAN goes into the realm of tin-foil hats and conspiracy theorists. You see, this system won’t be using regular texts, instead it requires an additional microchip and special software.
Why do we need an extra chip to get a text message? Unless there’s something more that chip and software do.
What’s even more concerning, if you’re using the iPhone 4, you reportedly already have the PLAN chip in your phone. Don’t worry, it’s not turned on yet, they’ll have to push a software update to activate it when the PLAN goes live.
What if you don’t want to get these alerts? According to the story, you can opt-out of all of them — except the ones from the President.
Wait, you can turn off alerts to help find missing children and warn you about an impending tornado, but you can’t turn off messages from the President? That sounds backwards.
I’m all for defaulting these kinds of messages to “on”, and delivered by regular, “no-extra-chips-needed” SMS text messages, and letting people opt-out if they so desire, but forcing people into the system without being able to opt-out of all of them? Combined with the fact that they want us to have a special chip in our phones… well, I could say what I think about that, but I’m afraid I’ve run out of tin-foil for my hat.
If you’ve got your hat on, let us know your thoughts in the comments below.