Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

There are less than 72 hours left in this Mid-Year Campaign and our independent journalism needs your help today.
If you value our work, please support Common Dreams. This is our hour of need.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Noting that Trump has already "weaponized disinformation" through his Twitter account, the activists argue that the presidential alert system is "unconstitutionally vague" and could be vulnerable to manipulation by an erratic president who has shown complete disdain for the truth. (Photo: Reuters)

Warning of Propaganda 'Loudspeakers' in Every American's Pocket, Lawsuit Aims to Stop Trump's Unblockable Text Messages

The suit argues the presidential alert system violates "Americans' First and Fourth Amendment rights to be free from government-compelled listening."

Jake Johnson

With President Donald Trump set to send out the first unblockable "presidential alert" to every single U.S. resident with a cellphone on Wednesday, three New Yorkers are attemping to stop the intrusive text messages with a lawsuit arguing that the new emergency alert system "is tantamount to hijacking private property for the purpose of planting a government-controlled loudspeaker in the home and on the person of every American."

"Just as a pamphleteer cannot compel a passerby to accept a screed, so, too, government cannot send messages to peoples' cellular devices without being invited to do so."
—Lawsuit

Filed last week in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan by three New York activists—J.B. Nicholas, Kristine Rakowsky and Liane Nikitovich—the suit (pdf) claims the presidential alert system violates "Americans' First and Fourth Amendment rights to be free from government-compelled listening, as well as warrantless, non-consensual trespass into and seizure of their cellular devices."

While it is possible to opt out of Amber Alerts and other emergency notifications, it is not possible to block or turn off presidential alerts. (You won't be able to text back, either.)

Noting that Trump has already "weaponized disinformation" through his Twitter account, the activists argue that the presidential alert system—established by a 2006 law signed by former President George W. Bush—is "unconstitutionally vague" and could be vulnerable to manipulation by an erratic president who has shown complete disdain for the truth.

While the law states that presidential alerts can only be sent in the case of genuine national emergencies—like a terrorist attack or a natural disaster—the lawsuit points out that Trump and other federal officials are "free to define 'act of terrorism' and 'threat to public safety' as they see fit, potentially broadcasting arbitrary, biased, irrational, and/or content-based messages to hundreds of millions of people."

"Just as a pamphleteer cannot compel a passerby to accept a screed, so, too, government cannot send messages to peoples' cellular devices without being invited to do so," the lawsuit concludes. "The compulsory presidential alert scheme violates the Constitution. This court should not hesitate to so declare."

Ahead of the presidential alert system's debut, as Common Dreams has previously reported, many have echoed the concerns raised in the New Yorkers' lawsuit and warned that Trump will be able to blast out potentially false and self-serving messages to every U.S. resident with a cellphone.

Experts have also expressed concern that there are not sufficient safeguards to prevent Trump from exploiting the alert system for his own political needs.

"I'm not sure that the system would protect us from rogue announcements by a president who has exhibited the kind of behavior President Trump has over the last two years," Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, told Vox in an interview last month. "I personally would not give this microphone to Donald Trump."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Just a few days left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Critics Say Biden Drilling Bonanza 'Won't Lower Gas Prices' But 'Will Worsen Climate Crisis'

"President Biden's massive public lands giveaway in the face of utter climate catastrophe is just the latest sign that his climate commitments are mere rhetoric," said one campaigner.

Kenny Stancil ·


Grave Warnings as Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Case That Threatens 'Future of Voting Rights'

"Buckle up," implores one prominent legal scholar. "An extreme decision here could fundamentally alter the balance of power in setting election rules in the states and provide a path for great threats to elections."

Brett Wilkins ·


Biden Urged to Take Emergency Action After 'Disastrous' Climate Ruling by Supreme Court

"The catastrophic impact of this decision cannot be understated," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, but "we cannot accept defeat."

Kenny Stancil ·


'Now We're Talking!' Says AOC as Biden Backs Filibuster Carveout for Abortion Rights

"Time for people to see a real, forceful push for it," said the New York Democrat. "Use the bully pulpit. We need more."

Jake Johnson ·


Supreme Court Says Biden Can End 'Shameful' Remain in Mexico Asylum Policy

"Now is the turn for Congress to get rid of Title 42, and provide a solution to the weakened asylum system in place, to provide a humane and fair alternative to vulnerable children, families, and individuals fleeing unsafe conditions and persecution."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo