News Column

Alert: Cell Phones Have Government Notifications

August 6, 2013


The government can provide emergency alerts via cell phones.
The government can provide emergency alerts via cell phones.

As millions of Californians were dozing off late Monday, many were awakened by a high-pitched tone from their cell phone as it vibrated several times.

It wasn't hackers taking control of your cell phone, it was instead a statewide Amber Alert warning residents to be on the lookout for an alleged murder suspect who reportedly kidnapped two children.

We now know the National Security Agency (NSA) can listen to our calls and read our emails, but who knew the government could take control of our cell phones too? The alert feature was added Jan. 1 nationwide, replacing an opt-in alert system.

In California's case, the Amber Alert was sent out at 10:54 p.m. Monday with the notice: "Boulevard, CA AMBER Alert UPDATE: LIC/6WCU986 (CA) Blue Nissan Versa 4 Door."

Authorities are searching for Lee DiMaggio, who is accused of killing Christina Anderson and then kidnapping her children, Hannah Anderson, 16, and Ethan Anderson, 8. Police believe DiMaggio could be driving to Texas or Canada.

The notification went out only on cell phone towers in California. So if you have a cell phone with a California area code and are vacationing in New York, you wouldn't receive the text. But residents outside of California who are spending some time in the Golden State would be notified, officials said.

If you aren't a fan of middle-of-the-night alerts, go to settings on the cell phone and look under notifications. There is a section called "Government Alerts" and the Amber Alerts or Emergency Alerts can be disabled. Or contact your service provider for help.

And no need to worry, the alert doesn't count against your monthly allowance of texts.

Source: (c) 2013. All rights reserved.

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