Emergency alerts from President Obama on your mobile phone?

Filed Under: Mobile, Spam

Barack Obama mobile phoneMobile phone users could soon find themselves receiving emergency text messages warning them of terrorist attacks and natural disasters, under plans announced in the United States yesterday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have announced the "Personal Localized Alerting Network" (PLAN) which will see new handheld devices fitted with special chips to receive the alerts, which will be sent by state and local authorities. The system is designed to supersede all other phone traffic, In an attempt to avoid delays.

According to the FCC, users will be able to opt out of all alerts apart from those sent by the US president.

(What makes messages from the US president so special, I wonder?)

In many ways this can be viewed as a logical progression from the other methods that authorities have used to communicate with their citizens in times of emergency - such as alerts via television and radio broadcasts. The wide adoption of cellphones makes it a natural way to pass on an important official message whether it be about a flood, a fire or a missing child.

But an obvious concern about the PLAN system is this: if it's an easy way to communicate a message to many people in a particular city or area, could it be abused by cybercriminals?

Our hope is that appropriate measures will be put in place to tightly control and authenticate any messages which are broadcast to cellphone users. But it certainly would be an attractive target for scammers, spammers and mischief-makers.

After all, in 2009 Barack Obama's own Twitter account was compromised by spammers who posted a message to his many thousands of followers:

Barack Obama's Twitter account compromised by spammers

The phone alert service is to be made available by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. New York City and Washington DC seem likely to be amongst the first locations to activate the PLAN network, with plans to have the system in place by the end of 2011. Other cities and network carriers are expected to follow during 2012.

By the way, while writing this article I stumbled across the official Twitter account for the Department of Homeland Security's National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS): @NTASAlerts:

NTASAlerts on Twitter, but no tweets

It's a verified account but I probably won't be following it.

After all, to date it has managed to post a grand total of zero tweets.

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10 Responses to Emergency alerts from President Obama on your mobile phone?

  1. George Passantino · 1576 days ago

    That is a sign of the times... an account on some service somewhere that was created with high hopes that lies dormant and forgotten by those that created it.

  2. Mary McLaughlin · 1576 days ago

    I am not an anti-government fanatic, but this is definitely a case of government intrusion. Why can't this service be an app, why does it have to be hard-wired into our phones, and why can't we opt out of it? If given the option, I would probably choose to have the alerts, but I don't like them being forced upon me.

  3. Ralph D · 1576 days ago

    Sigh. Off we go down the well-intentioned slope. First it will be terrorist alerts and natural disasters. Then we'll add weather alerts and Amber alerts. After all, who can say no to those? Of course we'll have to add a weekly test alert. Then there will be traffic jam alerts and school closings. Before you know it, we'll have alerts when the local school cafeteria changes its menu. Eventually folks will be lucky to complete a call between alerts.

  4. InsertNameHere · 1576 days ago

    FUD is FUD.

    The possibility of fraud is available on all technology.

    Imagine... Radio could be taken over by agents that could speak poorly of our government!!!

    Wait,.... what ?!!?

  5. Mark · 1576 days ago

    Want to block emergency alerts from President Obama on your mobile phone? There's an app for that!

    (... or should be!)


  6. Guest91928398467869 · 1576 days ago

    Just like TV all over again... Sigh.

    Oh, but wait! We'll have more alerts this time!
    Perhaps President Obama'll send us amber alerts for some kidnapping somewhere halfway across the country, or maybe we'll get those weekly test alerts just like on the TV version.

    But, what there's more!
    This means the price of electronics will go up, again. And what are the chances of anyone buying those all-new electronics, what with the way everything's being going so far?

    Not a lot, probably. After all, our current electronics are just fine, aren't they? They won't force us to buy those new chipped electronics at all.

    This is the kind of thing social media. ad companies, and the marketing dept. dream for! A chip in every device that lets you send uninterrupted messages to that device.

    Such a nice idea, since everyone in this world is so caring and willing to help at a moments notice.
    Ever looked up bystander apathy? Sure, they saw the whole thing happen, but thought somebody else would do it. Time for this to happen on a national scale instead of just locally to an event.

    Soon, everybody'll just shrug off the alerts, maybe even not use a cellphone if there are enough of them, and all those totally nessecary amber alerts and national alerts would go to waste.

  7. Gertrude · 1576 days ago

    Psychological preparedness is a key factor in preventing post traumatic mental health problems following a natural disaster.

    National alert system that reaches individuals is life saving, and recommended in the Royal Commission following the worst wildfires in Australian history in 2009.

    We have a civil liberty to be protected by our elected officials

    • George Passantino · 1574 days ago

      The funny thing about being "protected" by our elected officials is that it results in a "nanny state". That is the last thing we need. We need people that are more aware of what is going on, not more infrastructure to do their thinking for them.

  8. little louie groovy · 1358 days ago

    how about we get butt implants that track our every move report every word and broadcast pictures of what we do..then we will be safe from all the bad stuff
    then we should all sign away our rights so warrants won't be needed...
    The US is the fastest growing police state in the world.

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog at https://grahamcluley.com, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Follow him on Twitter at @gcluley