Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Test of Control

Tomorrow, the federal government will take control of the airwaves for over three minutes in the first ever nationwide test of the emergency broadcast system. At 2 PM EST, the government will seize control of the airwaves in order to conduct this unprecedented test. Despite the FCC's ability to do this, tests have previously always been conducted locally and the emergency system has been used mainly for local weather alerts.

There are several things that should concern Americans. First, why does the executive branch need to have the power to take control of the airwaves? An emergency necessitating activation of this system is more likely to be local than national. Even on September 11, when we did not know whether there were additional targets across the country, the media and word of mouth made the public aware of the latest news without activation of the EAS. To me, a national alert system seems unnecessary. Second, why does the government need 210 seconds for this test? Most local tests last for only a few seconds, not several minutes. While I can understand the need for a slightly longer test when doing a nationwide test, I cannot understand the need for over three minutes. Finally, this test takes control of the airwaves from the broadcasters and gives it to the government. Previous tests kept the broadcaster in control, but this test will take control of the airwaves from the broadcaster and give that control to the government.

While there may be benefits to having a national alert system, the way this test is being conducted seems to look more like it is an attempt to show the public and the broadcasters who is actually in control of the airwaves. The need for this alert system is small and unlikely, the length of this test seems excessive, and the method for this test is unprecedented. Giving the government the power to control all communications in an emergency is a recipe for more governmental control, not more safety and security.

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