Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/04/10/fcc_text_warnings/

FCC builds giant text spam engine for terror warnings

jst 2 let u knw, there's an @ak pl& on d USA l8r 2day

By Bill Ray

Posted in Government, 10th April 2008 11:57 GMT

The Federal Communications Commission is set to announce the launch of a national alert system, using text messaging and other mobile technologies to tell Americans when to panic.

The system will be announced on Wednesday, according to both CNN and USA Today. Carriers will be asked to opt in, while customers can opt out if they wish. CNN reports that all the major US carriers are signed up to the plan, at least in concept.

The idea is that a federal agency, as yet unnamed, will be given the password to the biggest mobile spamming engine ever created, and told to only use it in an emergency. They will use the system to let people know when there's a terrorist attack, ideally beforehand but more likely just afterwards, or a natural disaster, with the same caveat.

If the system gets over-used then punters can opt out of receiving more messages, and carriers will also be able to withdraw from the system.

Assuming the agency responsible can be discouraged from false alarms then the idea makes some sense, though it could be susceptible to feature creep; CNN reports that the same agency will also pass on Amber Alerts.

The Amber Alert system operates across the US and serves to let local media, and interested citizens, know when a child has been abducted. A similar system is being considered for use across Europe, endorsed by the parents of Madeleine McCann. Despite the low number of abductions they are emotive events, even when the "abductee" turns out to be hiding at a relative's or friend's house.

Setting up such alert systems is expensive, and one should be careful of any law named after a person (as the Amber Alert system is), as its enactment may be driven emotionally rather than based on cool assessment of the benefits. ®