A new system recently enacted to alert cell phone users – through text messaging – when certain types of unfortunate events occur or may be imminent, is becoming more widespread as the new system gets settled into place. This is a collaborative effort between the Federal Communications Commission, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Weather Service.
With this system, called WEA (Wireless Emergency Alerts, or CMAS (Commercial Mobile Alert System), participation by your cell phone carrier is voluntary. Checking online with various carriers, I find that T-Mobile is on board, along with AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, U.S. Cellular and some smaller systems like Celicom and Cricket. I am sure there are others, and some college campuses and other enclosed communities also use the system. You must, however, have a WEA-capable phone in order to receive these messages.
The text messages are free to receive, and it’s possible to opt out of Amber and weather alerts, but once you have a phone enabled for this technology, you cannot opt out of presidential alerts. <==Click here to Tweet this!
The biggest concern I have about this technology is that it uses location information to determine whether or not any particular message should be sent to your cell phone (think tornadoes, ice storms, and the current worst-case scenario – wildfires). It is unclear whether opting out of all messages except presidential alerts disables the sending of location information (but I have my doubts). If the the location information provided by your phone is limited to emergency use only it might not be so bad, but when has the government EVER kept itself out of your business voluntarily? When has the government ever limited its use of your information to only the original purpose? You can see by the related articles below, that I am not the only one who is not overjoyed with the idea that the government is tracking our whereabouts, for whatever reason.
You can easily check with your carrier to determine whether your phone is WEA- enabled. I checked online for mine, and my phone is not included in the list of enabled phones. I’ll have to admit I’m glad that I just bought a brand new cell phone, so this is not a worry I will have for a while. (My method is to pay cash for my phones, do NOT enter into a new contract to reduce the phone’s price, and then use the phone until it’s hopelessly outdated before I go buy another one. Although the initial outlay is high, overall it saves money in contract fees, AND, apparently, keeps me from being interrupted in my daily life by what some might consider to be less-than-emergency messages.) At least, until I buy my next phone.
Headlines of the future – I can see them now: “Courtesy of your government: a cell phone that turns itself on when the President wants to speak to you!”
Hope you are all having a happy Independence Day!
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