TOPIC OF THE WEEK: Alarmed at the mandated alarm?
Americans were alarmed Wednesday when they realized that Donald Trump can send direct messages to every phone in the United States, alarmed enough to cause three New Yorkers to file a lawsuit against President Trump and FEMA Administrator William "Brock" Long. The New Yorkers stated in their suit that Trump’s "rise to power was facilitated by weaponized disinformation that he broadcast into the public information sphere via Twitter in addition to traditional mass media." Though a suit seems a bit much, many of us are skeptical of what is going to be pushed on the newly formed alert system.
The system was designed to alert American citizens of national disasters and emergencies. Since Trump has not been the best at handling natural disasters, this seems like it would be a natural fix for him. He gets to sit on his phone, and make a tweet that buzzes everyone’s phone simultaneously. This will make it appear as if Trump is on top of things, but sending the message will be the extent of his work. I can already imagine him saying something along the lines of “I did sent the alert, so I have been actively addressing the issue”.
The test alert sounded at 2:18 p.m. It reminded me of the first time I had heard the alarm sound go off from my phone. It was just an AMBER Alert, but I was shaken. The thought of the government having the ability to access my phone whenever they want haunts me and makes me fearful of the power they have. What can they do with this power? My mind naturally went for the worst I could come up with, but like always I wasn’t imaginative enough to think of the worst.
“The "Presidential alerts": they are capable of accessing the E911 chip in your phones - giving them full access to your location, microphone, camera and every function of your phone. This not a rant, this is from me, still one of the leading cybersecurity experts. Wake up people!” tweeted John McAfee, software developer and founder of the McAfee security software company. Edward Snowden also felt to bring this to the attention of the people saying, "The same centralized infrastructure that lets them send something to everyone enables them to read anything from anyone”. If you want to see Snowden's reference to the capabilities of government to spy on the people, check out this link.
Time passes and my anxiety continues; my anxiety of knowing I will never truly be alone again, the way I was when I was young, the days before smartphones and other devices. Today, there are satellites in the sky taking pictures from above, and a phone listening in to every conversation. The fact the American government will continuously violate the rights of people without being named as a top enemy to human rights is truly appalling. Where do we draw a line? Do enough people care? Or are they fine with all of this because they can send images that “disappear” with dog-ear filters?
On one hand I find it a bit nerve-racking that the government can access everyone's phones. This can potentially be taken advantage of or create false fear in the people. When I think of alerts like these, I think of the "ballistic missile" emergency text in Hawaii, scarily real in the middle of our most contentious relations with North Korea. So it is a bit worrisome to think that we’ll potentially second guess an alert like that. But on the other hand, I think the presidential alert is a useful tool if used responsibly. The presidential alert is a very effective way to get important crucial news to everyone.
And in the back of my mind I feel as if because of Trump, the idea of presidential alerts scare people. A lot of people are scared that it’ll turn into his Twitter page. But then I think, if it was President Barack Obama would it still be an issue? And, let’s be real, is the president even really in charge of the alert?
I think all the people complaining about the idea of a Presidential Alert System fall into either one of two categories: those who are obsessively opposed to President Trump to the point that they associate all governmental activity to him, no matter how long the idea had been in the works for, and those who just see the idea of the government having a total registry of all phone numbers as being a little “big brother”-y. I disagree with both points, but I understand the latter. The alert system has been under work since at least a year before Trump took office, and anyone who thinks the device is a tool for White House propaganda might as well say that AMBER Alerts do the same thing, as Trump is banned by federal law (specifically The Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Modernization Act of 2015) from using it for any other purpose than immediate disasters. Those who fear this system is yet another encroachment of the government into our pockets should probably realize that a nationwide alert system about potential nuclear strikes is probably not the battle worth fighting, but I’m always happy someone is out there watching the government like Bear Grylls watches a snake, just in case anything happens and I’m too distracted to notice.
Overall, I think the Presidential Alert System is a great idea. Legally, it can only be used to tell people about national emergencies. We have been receiving alerts of this type over television since 1997. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also sends out emergency weather alerts over the radio. Since only 12% of college aged people listen to the radio daily, and traditional television viewing has dropped by 43.6% since 2012, text message might be the best way to reach us. It makes sense that the government would want a way to best communicate emergencies to the largest amount of people possible.
I agree with Mikayla on her view that the main reason people are against this is that it appears that Donald Trump's name on it. President Trump didn't merely decide he wanted a mandated avenue to text us directly. An article published by the New York Times in 2013 shows that Congress had already decided that while people can opt out of AMBER Alerts and emergency weather alerts, they cannot opt out of alerts issued by the president. Also, if Donald Trump did somehow walk around legal barriers and text us something outside of what the alerts should be used for, I imagine the outcry would be heard from both sides for the breach in our privacy.
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