Government in Your Phone

Happy days are afoot now. In 2006 the federal government approved the creation of the Commercial Mobile Alert System and it’s ready for action. On the surface it’s claimed to be a mechanism of alerting people in an area of a disaster. I’m sure anybody reading this blog long enough know that I’m very skeptical of anything the government does. First I find the following interesting:

A special chip is required to allow a phone to receive the messages, and soon all new phones will have the technology. Some smartphones already have the chip, and software updates will be available when the network goes online later this year, Genachowski said.

Why does this interest me? It interests me for several reasons. First is the design of this chip open for anybody to develop or is production of these chips controlled by one company that was granted a government monopoly? If the design of this chip isn’t open we have no clue what it can actually do. When the government controls something I can’t verify the abilities of I worry.

Another thing I find interesting are the levels of alerts this system can implement:

Presidential Alerts – Alerts for all Americans related to national emergencies, such as terrorist attacks, that will preempt any other pending alerts;

Imminent Threat Alerts – Alerts with information on emergencies, such as hurricanes or tornadoes, where life or property is at risk, the event is likely to occur, and some responsive action should be taken; and

Child Abduction Emergency/AMBER Alerts – Alerts related to missing or endangered children due to an abduction or runaway situation.

Combine this with the following:

People will be able to opt out of receiving all but the presidential alerts.

So what the Hell is this system supposed to accomplish? Obviously not warning people in an area of natural disasters because those messages can be opted out of. But if there is a terrorist attack in New York again I’m unable to opt-out of that message. I’m sorry but a terrorist attack in another state isn’t something I need to be warned about immediately while a tornado touching down over my house would be of some interest to me. The opt-out mechanism is backwards to say the last and that is also cause for suspicion.

Basically the government has legislated a new chip be required in all new cell phones yet have no released any documents that I can find that give the exact specifications of this chip or its capabilities. I’m guessing we’re going to find something additional functionality further down the road but I could just be cynical due to the history of government implemented projects.

What’s interesting is currently only AT&T and Verizon are signed up for this. Sprint and T-Mobile (who will soon be AT&T) haven’t which really makes me want to utilize my Sprint phone more.