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The British Government is going to hijack your phone…

We are now forewarned that the British government has chosen St. George’s Day, 23rd April 2023, to trial a new ‘alert’ system by sending alerts to the phones of everyone in the UK. It seems that you have to interact with the phone to stop it blaring a siren-like noise at you, and so acknowledge this impertinence.

However, not all phones can receive these ‘alerts’. The functionality is limited:

Compatible mobile phones and other devices

Make sure your device has all the latest software updates.

Emergency alerts work on:

iPhones running iOS 14.5 or later
Android phones and tablets running Android 11 or later
If you have an earlier version of Android, you may still be able to receive alerts. To check, search your device settings for ‘emergency alerts’.

But you can turn off these alerts on your phone (if you are socially-unfriendly):

You can opt out of emergency alerts, but you should keep them switched on for your own safety.

To opt out:

Search your settings for ‘emergency alerts’.
Turn off ‘severe alerts’ and ‘extreme alerts’.
If you still get alerts, contact your device manufacturer for help.

Blimey, something the government acknowledges that it can’t help me with, is this a first?

But what, pray, is this all for?

You may get alerts about:

severe flooding
extreme weather

One might hope that severe flooding and fires would be incompatible, but perhaps with the climate emergency, Mr Sunak will set the Thames on fire.

And the form of this message?

It ain’t half hot, Mum!

Not exactly:

What happens when you get an emergency alert

Your mobile phone or tablet may:

make a loud siren-like sound, even if it’s set on silent
read out the alert
The sound and vibration will last for about 10 seconds.

An alert will include a phone number or a link to the GOV.UK website for more information.

OK, but what should I do if I get an ‘alert’?

What you need to do

When you get an alert, stop what you’re doing and follow the instructions in the alert.

But does this apply to say, surgeons in an operating theatre? This is not mentioned.

And wait, what if I am…

If you’re driving or riding when you get an alert

You should not read or otherwise respond to an emergency alert whilst driving or riding a motorcycle.
If you are driving, you should continue to drive and not respond to the noise or attempt to pick up the mobile phone and deal with the message.
Find somewhere safe and legal to stop before reading the message. If there is nowhere safe or legal to stop close by, and nobody else is in the vehicle to read the alert, tune into live radio and wait for bulletins until you can find somewhere safe and legal to stop.
It is illegal to use a hand-held device while driving or riding.

Well at least that’s clear…

What is the legal basis for the government taking this power, and why is this not explained?

And presumably, if there’s someone running amok with knives or guns, this won’t be part of the alert system, when it might actually be unexpected, unlike the weather.

I can see where this is going. It will eventually be used to warn people that Nigel Farage is making a speech locally and that they should stay indoors and not follow the event on social media.

Sorry, I was being overly cynical there, I have seen this:

If you cannot receive emergency alerts

If you do not have a compatible device, you’ll still be informed about an emergency. The emergency services have other ways to warn you when there is a threat to life.

Emergency alerts will not replace local news, radio, television or social media.

That’s good to know, I had been wondering if it would. And I am pleased to hear that I won’t be getting messages from Robert Spencer if there is a certain type of rare incident in the locality. Then again, what if there is a hippo on the loose? Is there a template alert message for that, if not, why not? Are you seriously trying to protect us? Will it sound if there is, say, an unexpected landing on a beach by persons unknown?

Around 35 years ago, the late Auberon Waugh said that people only go into politics for the pleasure of pressing switches and watching us all jump. This figure of speech has become reality.

25 comments to The British Government is going to hijack your phone…

  • Steven R

    That’s much ado about nothing. We’ve had those kinds of alerts in the states for years. Most of the ones I get are either about local storm warnings, county emergency responses (e.g. water line breaks or unplanned road closures due to a rock slide or a fire), and missing children. It’s no different than the Civil Defense and NWS alerts that show up on tv and on the radio.

    Of all the things government does that irks me on a daily basis, near the bottom of the list is them telling me there’s a tornado alert in my area or letting me know a couple ICBMs are on the way or issuing an Amber Alert and telling me to call 911 if I see a gray Toyota Corolla with Ohio plates that read “123ABC”.

  • J.G.Harston

    In Japan it’s part of the mobile license that G3 and later networks pass on emergency earthquake alerts, but it’s just a standard SMS message, it doesn’t nag you with a loudhailer.

    Tho’ I’ve usually been watching TV and seen the alert scroll across the screen before the phone goes ping.

  • bobby b

    “Every citizen must have an up-to-date phone. For the childrens’ safety!”

    Were I an Apple executive, I would have heavily funded the lobbying for this program. What a great way to make my product ubiquitous across society.

    (“And now that everyone has their mandated phone, here’s our new rollout of GovPay – the new CBDC.”)

  • Mark

    No doubt, the “because of brexit” alert will be an hourly event with “climate emergency” warnings in between.

    Hope mine is a suitable volksphone so I can receive.

  • Where be muh Rishi fone?

    Why be po’ people lef’ out when dem nukes be flyin’?

    We need mo’ money for dem programs.

  • tfourier

    No big deal. This is a very reasonable update of Civil Defense procedures. To those of us of the Cold War generation the 4 min warning sirens were just part of the background scenery. Now it will be a push alert on your cell phone too.

    As others point out this has been standard in the US for decades. As part of state and Federal Civil Defense. Although we still have the sirens as well as the EBS tests on TV / radio. Although unlike Japan we dont have something like ShakeAlert on all phones yet.

    So considering that we are currently at the closest point to a nuclear exchange since 1983/1963 pushing out on cell phones the precautionary warning and the the actual 4 min warning is a very good idea. Although it might be a good idea to sit people down and be honest about whats involved. Very few would die in any actual exchange (the failure rate is very high) but unless they have prepped for the weeks after, well, thats there the real carnage is going to be. Its not going to be like the movies. Its going to be much worse as most people survive and have to deal with a severely damaged political and social order.

  • I’ve been discussing this as well. I’ve switched it off on my phone. Of course we will see what happens on the day. However, if this is response to Vlad and his nuclear threats, well, if that happens, a phone alert will be as much use as hiding under the table.

  • Aren’t such alerts relevant to me/us only if we’re in places affected by flooding or other natural calamities? If we’ve taken our phones with us abroad, we might need quite different alerts and be relatively uninterested in the ones applicable to the UK.

  • This is a very reasonable update of Civil Defense procedures. To those of us of the Cold War generation the 4 min warning sirens were just part of the background scenery. Now it will be a push alert on your cell phone too.

    Unfortunately for those living in the UK the air raid sirens are long decommissioned. Quite what happens if an EMP is detonated via FOBS without warning, since this will (presumably) knock out the phones. I guess that would be a clue that nukes are coming, but not much of one.

    The majority of air raid signals operated during the Cold War were dismantled during by the 1990s, which means that sirens are unlikely to be used as a warning if an attack occurs

  • llamas

    Some 50 years ago, your humble servant attended the diploma show at the Royal College of Art in Kensington, and he was so taken with one of the winners in the ‘poster’ category that he spent some of his hard-earned student grant money on buying a copy. I framed it and it hangs on my study wall, this very day.

    It was called ‘A Half-Measure’, and it is a half-sheet poster printed in the exact and immediately-recognizable typeface and style of ‘official’ pronouncements from HMSO and the like. It listed and summarized all of the means of warning and actions to be taken in case of nuclear attack, including such helpfull suggestions as ‘oral or whistle messages’ and what to do when you see the bright flash overhead. All of the content was taken directly from ‘official’ government publications.

    All government advice and information in case of real emergencies will be systemically out-of-date, unhelpful, misleading or just plain wrong – and sometimes all of the above at once – and this system will be no different, except that it will misinform many more people much more-quickly than before.



  • Hugh

    ” follow the instructions ” ???

  • Agammamon

    Friendly warning from the Septics over here who have had this system for a while – there will be at least one level of alerts you will not be allowed to opt out of.

    There will be at least on level of government that will insist that its so important that it has to be able to butt in any time it wants.

  • Agammamon

    And if you opt in for ‘local’ alerts be ready to get alerts for some place 200 miles away that have no bearing on you.

    I live in Yuma, AZ and only ever go weather alerts for Phoenix.

  • Fraser Orr

    if this is response to Vlad and his nuclear threats, well, if that happens, a phone alert will be as much use as hiding under the table.

    That’s not true!! You could, for example, get in one last game of sudoku.

  • Jim

    If you have a ‘brick’ phone like I do, does that mean they are unable to impose this on you?

  • Paul Marks

    My first thought was “they will have a job with me – I do not have a mobile telephone”.

    But I do – that thing attached to my council computer.

    I often forget that it is a mobile telephone – but it is.

  • turnip

    I received a flood warning last year. As it came 12 hours after the water first entered the house, it was ignored.
    If it had said ” you are currently up to your arse in water” it would have been accurate, but, alas, it did not.

  • Fred Z

    We have had this in Alberta, Canada for a number of years. There are more “test” alerts than real ones.

    2 weeks ago the system malfunctioned and I had 5 test alerts within 20 minutes. The volume is at the phones absolute max. Noisier than shite.

    The most recent real one was for child supposedly kidnapped by a parent, in a village 600 km away. How the fcuk did that alert to me, 600 km away, help any god damned thing?

    An incompetent fascist asshole system designed by and for asshole fascist incompetents.

  • Nemesis

    Mencken comes to mind here:

    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

    Good idea in theory but useless in practice.

  • john cheshire

    The YouTube video yesterday by We’ve Got a Problem alerted me to this and provided instructions on how to switch off these unasked for government alerts.
    It’s easy to do on my mobile phone and if I can do it, anyone can.
    The day a government asks for our permission before wasting our money, on anything, is the day I’ll stop thinking of them as rats and maybe start voting for them again.

  • bobby b

    This system started here with the Amber Alerts – a child protection system named after a murdered kid – and it usually goes off when a noncustodial parent takes their kid. (“Beeeeep! Watch for a blue Toyota with a man and his small child . . . “)

    So now, if you talk about turning off the system, they can hit back with “oh, you hate kids?”

  • Paul Marks

    bobby b – the “its for the children – do you want them to die?” tactic is, as you know, used in many Western countries.

    For example, the local “Children’s Trust” is many millions of Pounds over budget – but the elected council has no control over it (“its for the children” you see), not even the supposed control (more theoretical than real) that we have over the general budget (in reality Central Government has been imposing spending functions on local government, whether the local taxpayers wanted to fund them or not, since the Disraeli Act way back in 1875).

    “So Paul, why should people vote?” – to use an American praise, I think I will take the Fifth on that.

  • I live in Ontario, Canada, and the alerts are sometimes for severe weather events, but are more usually “Amber” alerts; which are for missing/abducted children. These often sound loudly in the middle of the night when my phone is on “do not disturb” and “maximum power savings”. As if I’m going to jump out of bed, get dressed, go outside and search for a child who went missing 10, 100 or 1,000 kilometres away. The only reason my phone isn’t powered off is because I’m using it as an alarm clock.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    I can’t quite believe no-one has mentioned Hawaii: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2018_Hawaii_false_missile_alert

    “Find somewhere safe and legal to stop before reading the message.” Finding out just how few people don’t know the hard shoulder of the M4 isn’t a safe or legal place to stop is going to be fun.