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Politics

New Yorkers sue Trump and FEMA to stop Presidential Alert

The three plaintiffs are concerned Trump may broadcast "arbitrary, biased, irrational" messages and there's no way to opt out.

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The first Presidential Alert was deployed Wednesday at 11:18 a.m. PT/2:18 p.m. ET.

Screenshot by Gordon Gottsegen/CNET

Some New Yorkers don't want Trump to text them.

Three New York residents last week filed a lawsuit in the Southern District Court of New York against President Donald Trump and William Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The residents want to halt FEMA's new Presidential Alert messaging system, which enables Trump to deploy alerts of national emergencies.

"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 lawsuit (posted below) reads. "[Trump's] 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 White House, FEMA, and plaintiffs didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

The first Presidential Alert deployed on Wednesday at 11:18 a.m. PT/2:18 p.m. ET as a test run. There was no emergency. 

Presidential Alerts are similar to Amber or other emergency alerts on your phone -- you hear a loud noise comes along with vibration. The messages come from the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), which attempts to send the alert to every cell phone within the US operating on a network run by a carrier opting into the Wireless Emergency Alert system.  IPAWS is used in the event of natural disasters, acts of terrorism or other disasters or threats to public safety.

The plaintiffs' main complaint is that Presidential Alerts are compulsory -- there's no way to opt-out of receiving them. They argue that under civil rights law, government cannot use cellular devices to compel listening, "trespass into and hijack" devices without a warrant or individual consent.

The plaintiffs are also concerned Trump might use the alerts to spread disinformation because IPAWS doesn't regulate the content of the messages. That means Trump may be free to define "act of terrorism" and "threat to public safety," and may broadcast "arbitrary, biased, irrational" messages to "hundreds of millions of people," the plaintiffs say in the lawsuit.

After the national test of "Presidential Alerts," many users on social media started spoofing and memes. Some echoed similar concerns as the plaintiffs.

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