A group of New Yorkers are suing President Trump and the Federal Emergency Management Agency over a “Presidential alert” text message that went out Wednesday, CNet reports.
The “Presidential alert” deployed for the first time yesterday, but the plan was signed into law by former President George W. Bush, and former President Barack Obama ordered FEMA to follow up on the demand, building and managing a framework for messaging all Americans at the same time.
The “Presidential alerts” are supposed to be for emergency situations only; President Trump directs FEMA to issue the alert, and FEMA pulls the trigger — a system not unlike the universal Amber Alert system that sends emergency messages to phones located in the vicinity of a missing child. But the plaintiffs say they’re afraid Trump will misuse the system and issue “weaponized disinformation” to their cell phones at will.
“Plaintiffs are American citizens who do not wish to receive text messages, or messages of any kind, on any topic or subject, from defendant Trump,” the complaint reads. “His rise to power was facilitated by weaponized disinformation that he broadcast into the public information sphere via Twitter in addition to traditional mass media.”
The plaintiffs add that they’re concerned Trump will send “arbitrary, biased [and] irrational” messages instead of systematic emergency alerts, and since there’s no way to opt out, they’re taking legal action. Because the parameters of “emergency” aren’t clear, Trump, they say, will be free to call just about anything an “act of terrorism” and “threat to public safety,” and act accordingly.
Plaintiffs add that, in addition to the nuisance and vagueness of the law, the text messages violate their Constitutional right to free speech and their Fourth Amendment rights against search and seizure (as the text messages constitute an unreasonable “seizure” of their cell phones).
Concerns about the FEMA mass text messages aren’t new. Civil rights organizations raised an alarm over the program when President Obama signed it into law in 2016, noting the same vagueness. The law specifies that the program “shall not be used to transmit a message that does not relate to a natural disaster, act of terrorism, or other man-made disaster or threat to public safety,” but doesn’t go far enough, they said, to define the terms.
The problem with the suit may be, though, that the plaintiffs seem to have added the Constitutional concerns only as backup; they’re more bothered by who is at the helm of the system than the system itself.