U.S. sent a ‘Presidential Alert’ text to all American cellphones
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sent an alert to tens of millions of U.S. mobile phones Wednesday to test a new “presidential alert” system.
The text appeared in an estimated 225 million U.S. mobile phones at 2:18 p.m. ET. Wednesday.
FEMA explained that the text was titled, “Presidential Alert.” All phones made a loud sound and had a special vibration when the alert was received.
The test was to ensure that the alert system would work in the event of an actual national emergency.
All cellphone users received the message: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”
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A similar message was then broadcast on TV screens and radio two minutes later at 2:20 p.m.
No one can opt out of these alerts — and only U.S. President Donald Trump has the ability to decide if or when those alerts are sent. However, FEMA confirmed to CNN that Trump will not be sending the alert from his cellphone.
“You would not have a situation where any sitting president would wake up one morning and attempt to send a particular message,” a FEMA official told the news network.
Jeh Johnson, the former secretary of Homeland Security. explained to CBS News that the alerts will only be sent in cases of true, national crises.
“It should be reserved for true situations, true emergencies, when we need to get the public’s attention,” Johnson said. “This is something that should not be used for a political agenda,” he said.
The presidential alerts are different from other national emergency alerts that have gone out in the past for natural disasters or missing persons alerts. These ones could be used for matters such as a national security crisis.
The country’s wireless emergency alert system was started in 2012 and has issued over 36,000 alerts for situations such as missing children, extreme weather and natural disasters, but never a presidential directive.
Former president Barack Obama was the one who directed FEMA to create a system that would allow the president to send cellphone alerts regarding public safety emergencies.
But the move has prompted a lawsuit in New York, which says that presidential alerts are a “violation of Americans’ First and Fourth Amendment rights to be free from Government-compelled listening, as well as warrantless, non-consensual trespass into and seizure of their cellular devices.”
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— With files from Reuters
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