What’s it for? The idea is to enable the president of the United States to warn the nation of major threats — such as a natural disaster or terrorist attack.
FEMA did already have the power to mass text US phones, via the National Wireless Emergency Alert System devised by the Bush administration in 2006, which has been used for sending alerts about national emergencies like weather events or missing children at a local level.
But now the system has been expanded to allow for the White House to compose and send its own ‘presidential alert’ to all phones in a national emergency situation.
There is no opt-out.
Repeat: No opt-out.
Fortunately Congress did limit the substance of these alerts — to “natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters or threats to public safety”, further stipulating that:
Except to the extent necessary for testing the public alert and warning system, the public alert and warning system shall not be used to transmit a message that does not relate to a natural disaster, act of terrorism, or other man-made disaster or threat to public safety.
But bearing in mind the ‘rip it up’ record of the current holder of office of the president of the US, there are no copper-bottomed guarantees about how ‘threat to public safety’ might be interpreted by president Trump.
So it remains a slightly mind-bending concept that the president could, say after a 3am binge-watch of his favorite TV show, fire out an alert entirely of his framing to EVERY US PHONE.
Technology is indeed a double-edged sword.
Here are a few ideas of presidential alerts we really hope Trump won’t be sending…
an accidental photo of a body part after he couldn’t figure out how to use the system and hit send accidentally