Obama’s 300 mil­lion new Twit­ter fol­low­ers

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

The gov­ern­ment has your cell phone num­ber, and it’s go­ing to send you text mes­sages whether you like it or not. Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion Chair­man Julius Ge­na­chowski joined Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency Ad­min­is­tra­tor W. Craig Fu­gate in New York City on May 10 to an­nounce a mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar fed­eral pro­gram that, in the­ory, will no­tify mo­bile phone users in times of grave emer­gency. Like so many Wash­ing­ton-cen­tric ideas, this one was ob­so­lete long be­fore it got off the draw­ing board.

Wire­less phone providers have agreed to dis­trib­ute “Home­land Se­cu­rity” mes­sages that will au­to­mat­i­cally pop up on cell phone screens when­ever a gov­ern­ment agency de­ter­mines there is a threat or disas­ter in the vicin­ity of the phone user. No­ti­fi­ca­tions in­clude alerts when­ever a child is re­ported miss­ing, which of­ten hap­pens dur­ing cus­tody fights be­tween fam­ily mem­bers. Cus­tomers must ac­tively opt-out of these “fea­tures” if they do not want to be dis­turbed while go­ing about their busi­ness, but there will be no way to sup­press un­wanted com­mu­ni­ca­tions from the pres­i­dent.

That means, while driv­ing along, a spe­cial “emer­gency” ring tone might sound on phones na­tion­wide. In 31 states, plus the District, read­ing that ur­gent no­ti­fi­ca­tion while be­hind the wheel could set the user up to be tick­eted for vi­o­lat­ing anti-text mes­sag­ing laws. That’s a sign that maybe, just maybe, this feel-good scheme hasn’t been fully thought through.

In 2006, Congress dreamed the idea of re­quir­ing fed­eral agen­cies to come up with a “na­tional alert sys­tem” that would serve as an up­dated ver­sion of the warn­ing sys­tem al­ready in place for broad­cast tele­vi­sion. When the leg­is­la­tion was first in­tro­duced, iPhones did not ex­ist and Twit­ter was in its in­fancy. The fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence these tech­nolo­gies have cre­ated in the en­su­ing years be­came ap­par­ent last week when news of the death of Osama bin Laden spread across the In­ter­net more than an hour be­fore Pres­i­dent Obama made his of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment.

That was a bril­liant demon­stra­tion of how the pri­vate sec­tor has al­ready cre­ated its own so­phis­ti­cated in­for­ma­tion dis­tri­bu­tion net­work ca­pa­ble of beat­ing the gov­ern­ment ev­ery time. Any­one who wants alerts can get them from a va­ri­ety of re­li­able news out­lets. In fact, do­ing so is al­most cer­tainly go­ing to be more ef­fec­tive than re­ly­ing on a clock-punch­ing bu­reau­crat to be at his desk dur­ing an emer­gency — es­pe­cially if it hap­pens af­ter hours or on the week­end.

Con­sider what hap­pened on Sept. 11, 2001, the first time the ex­ist­ing emer­gency alert sys­tem could have le­git­i­mately been used to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion. It was never ac­ti­vated. That’s be­cause gov­ern­ment agen­cies had no idea what was go­ing on dur­ing that ter­ror­ist at­tack. Just like the rest of the pub­lic, se­nior con­gres­sional lead­ers re­lied on Fox News, CNN and news ar­ti­cles for­warded on their Black­Ber­ries to keep them up-to-date on what was hap­pen­ing. The gov­ern­ment alert sys­tem is a symp­tom of the in­side-the-Belt­way men­tal­ity that in­sists any­thing im­por­tant must be done at the direc­tion of Un­cle Sam. The me­dia have proved far more on top of the sit­u­a­tion than the de­part­ments and agen­cies charged with keep­ing us safe.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.