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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Did Obama Just Create The Power To Take Over All Communications via Executive Order? -- Assignment of National Security and Emergency Preparedness Communications Functions

In the event you missed the Friday news dump, Barack Hussein Obama issued yet another executive order. Titled “Assignment of National Security and Emergency Preparedness Communications Functions,” it may be read in its entirety on the White House website here.  At first blush, it appears that the order modernizes previous communications functionality, particularly as it relates to the continuity of governmental communication during wartime or national crisis as defined by Obama.

The text of the order itself consists of 2,205 words and seven-(7) sections and multiple subsections. The policy statement (section one) seems innocuous and actually beneficial to the continuity of communications within the U.S., until one begins to dissect the order and consider it in context with other Obama issued directives. Extensive analysis of this order, in tandem with other recent Obama orders and signed legislation, suggests a disconcerting pattern of potential overreach by Obama into the area of normal and customary commercial communication systems.

Based on our analysis of this order, it would appear that the implementation of emergency communications by Obama, using all forms of wired and wireless communication systems, is redirected through the Executive branch and could expand such takeover abilities beyond the limits of an actual act of war, national emergency, or other event impacting the national security of the U.S.  The order also mandates that the Department of Homeland Security develops and submits such a plan to Obama within sixty-(60) days of this order (section 5.2(h)).

Additionally, Obama’s order completely revokes Executive Order 12472 of April 3, 1984, as amended, which established and defined the National Communication System (NCS). The purpose of the NCS is to “assist the President” in matters of emergency communications in war-time emergencies, and during “those crises or emergencies in which the exercise of the President’s war power functions is not required or permitted by law.” By the stroke of his pen, such distinctions are removed.

Will Apple customers be forcibly bombarded with texts from President Obama's campaign?

Civil liberty commentators have expressed concerns that by signing up to the Personal Localised Alerting Network (PLAN), Apple have turned their phones into part of President Obama's re-election campaign.

The un-hearalded changes to Apples iOS 6 mobile operating system give customers the option to opt in or out of receiving alerts from FEMA or the Amber Alert program, but not to messages directly from the president.

This raises the possibility of Barack Obama using the PLAN program to send campaign messages to all of Apples mobile device users, abusing the emergency alert program.

In compliance with the National Alerting Program (NAP), Apple's devices will be able to receive important messages from the Wireless Emergency Alerts system which tells Americans statewide and nationally about serious weather or disasters.

However, now that Apple is a fully functioning part of the NAP, this is the first time that the federal executive has had a direct line to the millions of Americans who use cell-phones.

Commentators such as Infowars, Alex Jones worry that the federal government could miss-use this power.

Instead of using the emergency broadcast system for national emergencies as the radio and television set-up has always been, he feels that the frequency of mobile phone use would make updates from the president hard to ignore if they were sent.

Indeed, the ability to text any and every American telephone is something that has been discussed since PLAN, the emergency alert system was announced last year.

Based around an expansion of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) emergency alert system, the original alerts were designed be sent out over radio and television in the event of a nuclear war.

However, PLAN is text-based and allows warnings to be localised or sent nationally.
Rolled out by both the FCC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), it can only be done with the cooperation of the cellular service providers and manufacturers, which Apple has now done.

'PLAN ensures that emergency alerts will not get stuck in highly congested user areas, which can happen with standard mobile voice and texting services,' said FEMA to the LA Times.

In addition to the text alerts sent by PLAN through to mobile phones, they will also carry a different vibrate and alert noise to differentiated them to people with hearing or vision difficulties.

However, as commentators such as Jones protest, even though the alerts can be switched off for missing children and emergency events, any communication from the president can not be.

This essentially means that every single new Apple wireless device is now contactable by Barack Obama.

'The stage has been set for a consistently growing number of people in the US to have capability to receive alerts from local, state, and federal officials through the initiative led by FEMA's Integrated Public Alert and Warning System program,' Rick Wimberly wrote on his blog on Emergency Management.

Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN)

Personal Localized Alerting Network

What is PLAN?

  • The Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN) (technically the Commercial Mobile Alert System) is a new public safety system that allows customers who own an enabled mobile device to receive geographically-targeted text-like messages alerting them of imminent threats to safety in their area.
  • This new technology ensures that emergency alerts will not get stuck in highly congested user areas which can happen with standard mobile voice and texting services. PLAN enables government officials to target emergency alerts to specific geographic areas through cell towers, which push the information to dedicated receivers in PLAN-enabled mobile devices.
  • PLAN complements the existing Emergency Alert System (EAS) which is provided by broadcasters and other media service providers and overseen by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Weather Service at the federal level. PLAN and EAS are part of an integrated public alert and warning system being developed by FEMA to allow the public to receive emergency alerts over multiple communications technologies.
  • Wireless companies volunteer to participate in PLAN. PLAN is the result of a unique public/private partnership between the FCC, FEMA and the wireless industry, with the singular objective of enhancing public safety.
  • The FCC’s rules require participating wireless carriers to deploy PLAN technology by April 7, 2012. Some participants, however, have committed to offer PLAN ahead of schedule (i.e. by the end of 2011). These carriers include AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. PLAN was established pursuant to the Warning, Alert and Response Network (WARN) Act.

How Does it Work?

  • Authorized national, state or local government officials send alerts regarding public safety emergencies such as a tornado or a terrorist to PLAN.
  • PLAN authenticates the alert, verifies that the sender is authorized, and sends it to participating wireless carriers.
  • Participating wireless carriers push the alerts from cell towers to mobile phones in the affected area. The alerts appear like text messages on mobile devices.


  • Geographically Targeted: A customer living in downtown New York would not receive a threat alert if he or she happens to be in Chicago when the alert is sent. Similarly, someone visiting downtown New York from Chicago on that same day would receive the alert, assuming the customer has a PLAN-enabled mobile device and his or her wireless carriers participates in PLAN.
  • Customers Automatically Signed Up: PLAN allows government officials to send emergency alerts to all subscribers with PLAN-capable devices if their wireless carriers participate in the program. Consumers do not need to sign-up for this service.
  • Alerts Are Free: Customers do not pay to receive PLAN alerts.
  • Covers Only Critical Emergency Alerts: Consumers will receive only three types of alerts from PLAN: (1) alerts issued by the President; (2) alerts involving imminent threats to safety of life; and (3) Amber Alerts. Participating carriers may allow subscribers to block all but the Presidential alerts.
  • Unique Signal and Vibration: A PLAN alert will be accompanied by a unique attention signal and vibration, which is particularly helpful to people with hearing or vision-related disabilities.

Information on Carrier Participation

Plan Documents


US government mandates special "emergency alerts" chip in all cell phones by 2012

The service is called "Personal Localized Alerting Network" or "PLAN" (technically called the "Commercial Mobile Alert System") and is scheduled to be available in New York by the end of 2011 and throughout the United States by April 2012, as a consequence of the Warning, Alert and Response Network (WARN) Act passed by Congress in 2006, which allocated $106 million to fund the program[1].

All new phones will be required to have the special chip, and according to AT&T spokesman Robert Quinn, some iPhones and Android phones already have it. It is confirmed that the Droid X (released in June 2010) does support PLAN and has a special "Emergency Alerts" app. Although this means the chip has been out there for at least one year, there is no precise list of which phones have the chips.

Carriers that will participate ahead of schedule are AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. The alerts will be text-like messages of 90 characters or less, and they'll be geographically targeted using GPS technology (does this mean that the chip will send your location continuously?). Alerts will be accompanied by a unique attention signal and vibration (helpful to people with hearing or vision disabilities). The PLAN alert will appear as a pop-up text, different from regular text messages. PC World reported that the alerts "eventually might include audio and video content".

Alerts will be pushed via wireless carrier cell towers, but are designed to not suffer from the congestion that can affect regular SMS text messages.

The CMAS Third Report and Order mentions that cost recovery is left as a decision for carriers: they may choose to absorb the costs themselves, or pass them on to customers.

Phones that already have the PLAN technology

* Motorola Droid X (sources)
* Sanyo Innuendo (source: Sprint spokesperson Crystal Davis,  571-288-6806 , via Business Wire)
* Sanyo Vera (source: as above)
* Sprint "plans to launch more PLAN-capable mobile devices later this year, and include PLAN technology in all new Sprint phones by the end of 2011." (source: as above)

Has anyone heard of this? It's been 3 weeks since the news was out and I haven't seen any followup in the media. The technical information is also extremely scarce. A few questions can be raised.

Concerns with the PLAN chip

UPDATE: see a comment from reddit, which addresses most of these issues.

1. Why is there so little precise technical information on a measure that will affect every single phone manufactured since 2012?

2. The cited reason for having an extra chip embedded in each cell phone is that the current SMS infrastructure can get congested in times of emergency. However, PLAN still uses wireless carrier cell towers to push messages (as opposed to a different frequency, like the ones used for radio clock synchronization or GPS). The GSM standard already supports Cell Broadcast (CB) messaging. This FCC paper from 2007 states that "Cell broadcast is already resident in most network infrastructure and in most phones, so there is no need to build any towers, lay any cable, write any software, or replace terminals". What is the exact justification of the extra chip? If the existence of the chip is a misunderstanding of the media, then why don't existing phones work with the system already? Why do we need new phones that are "PLAN-capable"?

3. Why limit the system to 90 characters of text, instead of relying on the existing multimedia message infrastructure, which can be used to send, for example, such critical information as a photo of an evacuation map? Also, the system is not backward compatible with the over 300 million mobile phones already in place in the United States, while using SMS is (more on these issues). It will take a few years (5?) for all phones to support PLAN. How many lives will be lost in the meantime? SMS is available now. Also, old people, the ones most likely to be affected by certain kinds of emergencies, tend to use very simple phones and to be very late adopters of new technology. Their phones do support SMS though.

4. Does the technology use GPS, as BBC mentions? The battery drain and surveillance implications are major.

5. Users can't opt out of “Presidential” messages. What safeguards are in place that would prevent an oppressive government from abusing this technology?

6. The design of the system is not available. How can the users know that it won't be abused? The chip could be programmed to snap a picture from the phone's camera, or to covertly record audio, upon receiving a certain signal. Remote activation of a phone's microphone has already been done by the FBI using the so-called roving bug.

7. What is to prevent the government-required software from receiving a certain signal or message which would disable the cell phone or its Internet access (useful in times of civil unrest, as has been seen in the Arab Spring revolts)?

8. Will rooting phones or custom ROMs become illegal, especially if one modifies the function of how the PLAN network interacts with the smartphone?

Sources and media coverage

The only first-hand press coverage I've seen dates from May 10-11, and there's been nothing since.

* National Emergency Alert System Set To Launch In NYC, with audio from the announcement. 800+ users comments, mostly against the idea. "For now, the alerts are capable on certain high-end cell phones but starting next year, all cell phones will be required to have the chip that receives alerts."
* Engadget - text of the press release. "Participating carriers are including PLAN chips in their new phones, and many recently purchased phones already have the chip and only will require a software upgrade."
* Wired: Bloomberg, FEMA, FCC Detail NYC Emergency Notification System: "The assembled wireless-company executives, including AT&T CEO Randall L. Stephenson and Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg, pledged their support for the system and said new devices will be equipped with a PLAN chip. [...] a list of compatible phones would be posted soon on the FCC’s website [...] Officials didn’t go into detail about the technical specifications of the new network."
* PC World: FCC Calls for Mobile Alert System (2008): "The alerts initially would be text only, though with vibration and audio signals for people with disabilities. They eventually might include audio and video content." (confirmed at FCC's site)
* MacDailyNews: U.S. gov’t mandates special chip in all cellphones; users can’t opt out of presidential messages: "It will use GPS technology and will send some of the alerts based on the location of the phone user."
* Daily Mail UK: Don't write off a text message from the president as a prank: It's an emergency and he might just save your life...: "A special chip is required to allow the phone to receive the messages"
* NY Times: Emergency Alert System Expected for Cellphones: "special chip [...] is currently included in some higher-end smartphones like the latest iPhones"
* USA Today: Cellphones get emergency alerts: "Some current cellphones, including some iPhones and some Android phones, already have the circuitry required to receive PLAN alerts. The iPhones that have the capacity to get alerts, says AT&T's Robert Quinn, will require software modifications. New AT&T phones due out in October will be PLAN-ready."
* NY Post: "Officials said at least three models already have the chip: the Droid X, the iPhone 4 and the Innuendo." The emergency alert feature and app (which can't be uninstalled) are confirmed on the Droid X. Note that the Droid X was released in July 2010.
* BBC: Mobile phone emergency alert system to launch in US: "Mr Bloomberg unveiled the Personal Localized Alerting Network, or Plan, on Tuesday, explaining that the system will implemented through a special chip installed on new mobile phones. The system works through GPS technology and will send some of the alerts based on a user's location."
* AFP: US alert system targets mobile phones: "The alerts will be text-like messages of 90 characters or less."
* Associated Press: Cellphone alert system announced in NYC: "A special chip is required to allow the phone to receive the messages. Some smartphones already have the chip, and software updates will be available when the network goes online later this year."
* FEMA page - no technical details, and nothing beyond what the press said
* slashdot and reddit


What you need to know about Wireless Emergency Alerts

June 21, 2012|By Chris Durden | KWCH 12 Eyewitness News
(WICHITA, Kan.) —

The Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) are a partnership between the National Weather Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

They alerts are also known as the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) or Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN).

Types of Alerts:
  • Presidential Alerts – Alerts issued by the President or a designee
  • Imminent Threat Alerts – Alerts that include severe man-made or natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc., where an imminent threat to life or property exists
  • AMBER Alerts – Alerts that meet the U.S. Department of Justice’s criteria to help law enforcement search for and locate an abducted child.
How Do I Get The Alerts?
You need WEA capable phone in order to receive the mesages. Not all service providers are capable of issuing them. The ones that are include AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular.

Do I Have to Sign Up?
No. These alerts will automatically come to your WEA capable device starting in June.

Will the Alert be Customized to My Location?

Are the Alerts Different Than a Normal Text Message?
Yes. WEA messages include a special tone and vibration, which are repeated twice.
The alert messages do not disrupt text, calls or data sessions that are in progress. 
What Do I Do After getting a WEA?
The alert will contain instructions. There could be updates to the information in the initial alert, so be sure you monitor your device. You should also check other sources like TV, radio or the internet for additional information.

Do I Have to Pay For the Messages?
No. The alerts are free. WEA messages will not count toward limits on your wireless plan.

Can I Opt Out?
Yes. Visit to opt out.

What If I Have Additional Questions?
You can visit
Storm Team 12 can help you follow the storms no matter where you are headed. We offer two different Apps for all of your weather needs.

Download the Storm Team 12 App for interactive radar and current conditions by zip code.  Also download the KWCH App, where you can watch streaming video of our Always On Storm Team 12 Weather Channel, channel 12.2. There you can also send us your storm shots and receive weather alerts.  The Apps are free to download for i-Phone, i-Pad and Android.
         If you don't have a smart phone, Text Me 12 can also alert you to storms.


Severe weather warnings go mobile

8:15 PM, Jun 18, 2012 AT

ALANTA -- Starting this week, most Americans will be able to get  severe weather warnings sent straight to their cell phones, no matter where they are in the country. 

The free Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) are a partnership between the National Weather Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

They're also known as the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) or Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN). 

And most people don't have to do anything to get the warnings. 

Will it come to my phone?
You will have to have a WEA capable phone in order to receive them. Not all providers are capable of issuing these alerts. The ones that are include AT&T, Bluegrass Cellular, Cellcom, Sprint Nextel, Verizon, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular. 

Does it cost any money?
No. This service is offered for free by wireless carriers. WEA messages will not count towards texting limits on your wireless plan. 

Do I have to sign up for it?
No. These will automatically come to your WEA capable device starting this week. If you do not want them, you can opt out of receiving WEA messages for imminent threats and AMBER Alerts, but not for Presidential messages. To opt out visit for the instructions.

What types of warnings will they be?
- Tsunami Warnings
- Tornado Warnings
- Flash Flood Warnings
- Hurricane and Typhoon Warnings
- Extreme Wind Warnings
- Blizzard and Ice Storm Warnings
- Dust Storm Warnings
- AMBER Alerts
- Presidential Alerts (such as national emergencies) 

What will a warning look like?
These alerts will look like any normal text message. The WEA message will show the type and time of the alert, along with any action you should take. These messages will be limited to 90 characters.

Does it follow you?
If you travel into a threat area after an alert is first sent, your WEA-capable device will receive the message when you enter the area. So if you are vacationing to Florida, your phone's GPS will notice and give you alerts only for the county you are in, NOT your home county. The program does not, however, track you or your phone. Just like when TV stations put up emergency weather alerts, the stations, like WEA, don't know exactly who is tuned in. 

Why is this important to me?
Alerts received at the right time can help keep you safe during an emergency. With WEA, alerts can be sent to your mobile device when you may be in harm's way, without need to download an app or subscribe to a service. 

How will I know the difference between WEA and a regular text message?
WEA messages include a special tone and vibration, both repeated twice. 

Is this the same service public safety agencies have asked the public to register for?
No, but they are complementary. Local agencies may have asked you to sign up to receive telephone calls, text messages, or emails. Those messages often include specific details about a critical event. WEA messages are very short and designed to get your attention in an emergency situation. They may not give all the details you receive from other notification services. 

Will a WEA message interrupt my phone conversations?
No, the alert will be delayed until you finish your call. 

How often will I receive WEA messages?
You may receive frequent WEA messages during an emergency. Message frequency depends on the number of imminent threats to life or property in your area. 

If, during an emergency, I can't make or receive calls or text messages due to network congestion, will I still be able to receive a WEA message?
Yes, WEA messages are not affected by network congestion. 

The NWS issues warnings for smaller areas, called polygons. Will my cell phone receive the tornado warning alert if my location is outside of this polygon?
Your cell phone will pick up the tornado warning alert even if was issued for only a part of the county (only county code is used -- all or nothing). The current (2012) software program isn't capable of narrowing down the alert for just those cell phones located within the polygon warning. 

How will I receive alerts if I don't have a WEA-capable device?
WEA is one of many ways you can receive emergency notifications. Other sources include NOAA Weather Radio, news media coverage, the Emergency Alert System on radio and TV broadcasts, social media, and other alerting methods offered by local and state public safety agencies. Your best use of WEA is to immediately seek additional information about the imminent thr
eat impacting your area. 

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