Text message emergency alerts coming to American cellphones

Starting later this year, the government will be able to send localized text message alerts American cell phone users.

Via: http://www.flickr.com/photos/spcummings/3158280292/
American cell phone owners may soon be able to get emergency alerts from the government on their cell phones.

Via the system, the government will be send localized text message alerts to users of cell phones that contain a special chip. An extension of the Emergency Broadcast System, the Personal Localized Alerting Network will be available to subscribers of all four of the major networks.

The program will start later this year with cell phone users in New York and Washington DC. A nationwide program will follow soon after, possibly landing by April 2012.

But PLAN also raises a number of red flags, especially for those with even the slightest concern for their privacy. For one, because the emergency alerts are personalized and tied to a user's location, the system relies on the location data kept by wireless carriers. Moreover, while government officials say that they hope the special chip will be a selling point for compatible devices, many may not share in that enthusiasm. This is perhaps more significant considering that cell phone owners will be automatically signed up for the alerts when they activate their phones.

Fortunately, users can opt out of the alerts - with one significant exception: Messages from the President.

The FCC put out a fact sheet on the program, available here.

[Via NYT]

[Photo via Stephen Cummings]

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