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more on Emergency text messages and AB 2231
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Sun, 2 Apr 2006 20:21:58 -0400

BTW does anyone in the US cellular industry use cell broadcasts?

Begin forwarded message:

From: Lauren Weinstein <lauren () vortex com>
Date: April 2, 2006 8:15:41 PM EDT
To: Craig Partridge <craig () aland bbn com>
Cc: Lauren Weinstein <lauren () vortex com>, "(Mr) Lyn R Kennedy" <lrkn () earthlink net>, dave () farber net
Subject: Re: [IP] more on Emergency text messages and AB 2231


I am unconvinced that text messaging, as currently implemented,
is a good choice for mass "non-opt-in" emergency notifications,
for both the technical and "human factors" reasons that have been
discussed on IP.

Technical issues can of course be dealt with through sufficient work
and possibly expense.  Human nature is another matter.  I don't
believe that it's practical to "educate" people to use the current
generations of text messaging if they are uninterested in that
feature.  I've personally tried such educational efforts myself with
various folks, only to be told "Lauren, I only want to use the phone
to call my sister Back East [free long distance!], I don't care
about all this other fancy stuff..." -- and other similar retorts.
Text messaging simply does not "exist" for a vast number of cell
phone users.

The only scenario under which I can envision really acceptable text
messaging for emergency notifications would require several

  - a cellular infrastructure that could successfully deliver
    vast numbers of SMS messages to a region in a very short period
    of time without swamping the network [most likely doable with work]

  - a cellular infrastructure that would not be swamped by the vast
    number of voice calls that people *will* make immediately in
    response to those emergency text messages [*much* harder to

  - some sort of separate "channel" and relatively standardized user
    interface for dealing with the emergency messages [likely doable,
    but would require considerable work and cooperation]

The last point has a couple of issues.  Standard text messaging has
virtually nil security from most carriers, and I suspect that soon
after the announcement of emergency text messaging being
implemented, we'd have people spoofing emergency SMS messages (SMS
spam is already a problem) just for kicks -- there are lots of
sickos out there.  There's no obvious way for an ordinary user to
easily authenticate the sender of standard SMS messages.

Any emergency messages should really appear *outside* of the
standard interface, in a mode that couldn't be spoofed through
ordinary SMS messages, and that would be automatically displayed
(e.g., in large red text) without any specific actions being
required by the user to either access the message or clear the phone
for immediate voice calls.  So in this respect, I'm really talking
about what would virtually be a separate communications and display
channel, even though it might be based on some aspects of an
"enhanced" SMS system.

Bottom line: Standard SMS text messaging does not appear to be
suitable for this task.  An enhanced environment that might be more
practical for this purpose is possible, but won't be trivial.

Lauren Weinstein
lauren () vortex com or lauren () pfir org
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800
Co-Founder, PFIR
   - People For Internet Responsibility - http://www.pfir.org
Co-Founder, IOIC
   - International Open Internet Coalition - http://www.ioic.net
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum - http://www.vortex.com
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Lauren's Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com
DayThink: http://daythink.vortex.com

  - - -

Hi Lauren:

I remember your earlier note and agree that's an issue.

At the same time, I also wonder how we go forward.  If we agree that
text messaging makes better use of the limited cellular capacity
(and you're quite right about how small it is) in an emergency, what
might we do.  Do we recommend, for instance, that TV broadcasters
take a few minutes in their live "breaking news coverage" to explain
how to use SMS -- just as they currently make announcements saying "don't
call people in the affected area"?  Do we educate people in advance
(much as in California, people are told to find a contact person elsewhere in the US to call to say, I'm OK and who will rebroadcast the info elsewhere?).

The technical world doesn't stand still. On 9/11 most folks preferred to get their news from TV, but as many were in the office, they apparently
went to on-line news sites first (shifting to TV as they got home).
Maybe next time they go to the web first? Similarly, how do we educate
folks who have cell phones to use them effectively?  (And, what is it
reasonable to ask them to learn???).



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