Not very many people know that tone contains data. (It's pretty interesting, really; see wiki link below.)
Broadcasters have an EAS box that listens for alert tones on other frequencies and repeats it over the broadcast frequency (and others may listen, etc). Among other things, the data in the tone affects how far it propagates, so if someone plays a tone over the air that's set to propagate nationwide, it's kind of a problem.
This isn't the first time this has happened, nor will it be the last.
Source: I worked on the engineering team at my college radio station (WSBF-FM Clemson).
EAS header: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergency_Alert_System#EAS_hea...
I worked on the engineering team for my high school radio station, but we didn't learn much about how EAS worked, other than that it was mandatory and was replacing EBS. :-)
Could, but probably shouldn't.
From FCC link https://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-settles-investigations-misu...
> These rules aim to protect the integrity of the alert system by helping to avoid confusion when the tones are used, alert fatigue among listeners
I like the term "alert fatigue". Very descriptive and useful. Definitely a good thing to avoid.
¶1 from the linked order:
To preserve and protect the unique purpose of the EAS Tones, the Commission enforces laws prohibiting the use of the tones, or simulations of them, except in actual emergencies, authorized tests of the EAS, or qualified PSAs.
Answer to your question, no, the FCC is not okay with simulations of the EAS tone.
Yup, you could generate two different sine waves that would seem reminiscent of the EAS two-tone alert and be near indistinguishable to all but an FM engineer and forwarding hardware. The SAME header could be invalid data, for a non-existent region code, or out of spec in some other way.
> Would that be OK with the FCC, or are they also concerned with human listeners recognizing the sound and believing that an alert is imminent?
No, if it was meant to be confused with the EAS tone, it's just as if you used the EAS tone. The FCC is a step ahead of "clever" ways of skirting important rules. WiFi deauth attacks are still "malicious interference" even though they're layer 2 attacks that don't "jam" the band.
I remember that the old EBS tone could automatically trigger some stations (like ours) to switch over to rebroadcasting a transmission from another station. I believe that the EAS signal does the same. At least in the EAS case, I didn't know whether the FCC was specifically hoping to catch humans' attention with the tones, or just to use them as a signal to transmission equipment to rapidly change the content it was broadcasting over to emergency announcement content, even without human intervention.
Several of the replies here, including yours, suggest that the FCC explicitly means for it to serve both purposes.
That's what authorized tests are for.
See also: phone phreaking.
The system was designed for resilience in the face of disasters up to and including nuclear attack. In this case low complexity in a single channel is a feature, not a bug.
I rescind my statement.
For one-way wide area communications it might not be a bad tradeoff. AT&T had an issue with blueboxing because people were making free calls on it.
This seems analogous to the free speech issues over the RSA encryption/decryption algorithms during the 90s.
Words that have the potential to incite imminent lawless action can't rely on free speech as a shield.
There's also illegal numbers
Some math used to be considered a munition and was heavily controlled for export. Some restrictions remain, with advocates for more.
There's laws that rely on courts to ad hoc determine the artistic validity of work, and thus its restrictions and even legality.
Courts can require you keep secrets or not talk about certain topics.
You can receive a letter that requires that you surrender information on your customers, but forbids you from telling them.
I know not all of those are relevant to this. Just enumerating free speech's cheese holes I can remember to support why I don't think upholding these fines would be hard.
These really aren't "exceptions" to the Free Speech Clause as "freedom of speech" was always a legal term of art. Opinions of precisely what it means vary, even at the time the Constitution was drafted, but it certainly was never equivalent to the mere physical act of communicating. Indeed, speech implies something about the substance and motivation of what's being communicated, which is exactly why performances and many other forms of activity--including abstention--are considered "speech".
More generally, the exercise of any right is always implicitly limited by its effect on others' rights. Here we have a perfect example: the right of the public, through their government, to effectively communicate emergency information in a timely matter would be infringed if anybody could imitate the tones. There's a natural conflict that must be resolved here, and for fairly obvious reasons (even if you don't necessarily agree), it's resolved in favor of the public.
> the right of the public, through their government, to effectively do X via the government would be infringed if anybody could do Y.
Someone could literally substitute anything into X and Y here to justify very bad things. Such as:
> the right of the public, through their government, to effectively forcibly redistribute wealth via the government would be infringed if anybody could refuse to pay taxes.
I know this is a bit of a strawman to illustrate the form of your argument, but the gulf between your statement and my strawmen is a spectrum of X and Y pairs, many of which are legitimately debatable.
Free speech is a negative right, which is a limit on government, which in turn means it cannot be infringed and that it has priority over rights of the government.
Saying that it's a negative right only begs the question of what the right actually is. What does "free exercise of religion" mean? In both cases there needs to be an objective, shared understanding of what religion and speech are, and what it means to freely exercise them. Quite obviously the free exercise of religion can't mean anything each individual wishes it to mean. For the same reasons freedom of speech can't mean communicating however, whenever, and whatever by any means you desire.
There's a chapter discussing freedom of discussion in the classic 19th century treatise on English constitutional law, "The Law of the Constitution", by A.V. Dicey. The basic gist is that the author thinks it's a stupid phrase, even though the very concept derives from English legal theory. The TL;DR is basically that in the English conception of government everybody is free to do whatever they want so long as it doesn't interfere with others' rights. Government only intervenes and prohibits activity when it has some legitimate interest, and then it must use a fair means of seeing to that interest. Fair means that, among other things, the government must craft rules of general application that don't unnecessarily single out individuals for arbitrary and capricious treatment. And the executive can only enforce the rules through a separately constituted court system whose basic function is to apply the rules in a fair manner. Likewise for private individuals seeking damages for harm inflicted upon them by others. This is basically Due Process in a nut shell, which all rights in the Anglo-American tradition can be traced back to.
Note that the phrase "freedom of speech" doesn't actually give us any hints about how to gauge the limits of what individuals are free to express, or the limits of how the government can regulate that speech. It's almost entirely context dependent and a function of the extent to which the speech can or does cause harm.
You say that it's a negative right, which I take to imply that we're to construe it as meaning that everything is allowed except when there's justified reasons for not allowing it--an "exception". Well, that's fundamental to Anglo-American law. That's how all rights work in the sense of government's ability to regulate behavior. What Dicey is saying is that there's no need to have an independent concept of "freedom of speech" because for various conceptual and technical reasons we're going to end up applying the same tests as we do for any legitimate government interest and its pursuit generally. And because most speech is essentially harmless--in the Anglo-American tradition we don't consider ideas to be intrinsically harmful--people would naturally have exceptionally wide latitude to say whatever they wished, and the extent and scope of government's legitimate interest would normally be quite narrow. This is actually how it worked in both England and the U.S., at least up until circa 1930s. And, indeed, on the rare occasions we did consider ideas harmful--i.e. communism, incitement to treason, etc--the courts were fairly liberal in permitting government regulation and even censorship.
Arguably the jurisprudence of free speech in the U.S. changed in the mid-part of the 20th century for some interesting reasons. But you could also argue that it didn't change at all, just that that the new jurisprudence was simply more explicit in saying that there's a high bar to meet before we can consider speech harmful. But to the extent there are harmful consequences of the speech, well then naturally the government is free to regulate it, though only to the extent necessary to mitigate the harm.
Contrast that with other rights, like the right to a jury trial. There's no balancing test where we weigh the consequences of exercising that right. You have it, period. For other rights there's more of a grey area. But for freedom of speech, Dicey makes a persuasive point--that throwing around the phrase "freedom of speech" doesn't actually accomplish anything--you're just always begging the question, and you're ultimately going to use generic legal tools and theories to answer the question. Not that I think it's not worthwhile to have it spelled out in our constitution. Americans especially, but also many other countries, do build a complex jurisprudence around the phrase. And it's helpful to be able to put a finger on some specific text when you're resolving a dispute in favor of an individual and against the government, which is pretty much the only reason we have a Bill of Rights anyhow--remember, many people argued it was superfluous and unnecessary.
It's also worth pointing out that though we often claim to hold free speech to be sacrosanct, we rarely bat an eye at the fact that copyrights, patents, and trademarks severely limit the things, including ideas, we're permitted to communicate and how we can communicate them. The FOSS community is maybe more concerned than others, but in any event it's a telling illustration of how we accept that free speech is basically being able to say anything you want to say so long as saying it doesn't impinge upon or "harm" some other legitimate interest--slander, safety, or simply the ability to sell a book at a high markup.
wahern is correct - free speech is a legal term of art.
As such, it isn't "X ... if anybody could do Y". The ability to do X, and the prohibitions on Y, are decided on "strict scrutiny", which is another legal term of art.
https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/strict_scrutiny - "Strict scrutiny is the highest standard of review which a court will use to evaluate the constitutionality of governmental discrimination." and "To pass strict scrutiny, the legislature must have passed the law to further a "compelling governmental interest," and must have narrowly tailored the law to achieve that interest."
So the form you should use is: "the right of the public, through their government, to effectively do X = something with a compelling government interest, may prohibit people from doing Y = narrowly tailored action which makes X difficult to do."
"Free speech" cannot be infringed, but not all speech is free speech. Surely you accept that there can be time, place, and manner limits on speech, yes?
Similarly, there are strict rules on who may use the Red Cross symbol, because of the compelling government interest in following the Geneva Convention.
That’s not true in the sense that free speech is not absolute and never has been. Not all speech is protected by the constitutional directive, which is what others are trying to help you understand.
Make special note of the 3rd paragraph that lists more than a dozen categories of speech to which free speech protections do not apply.
> Someone could literally substitute anything into X and Y here to justify very bad things.
Laws are historical artifacts made by people, they are not math or logic. Though people usually try hard to make them consistent, they cannot be deduced or extrapolated from first principles.
However, the rights of others – including the government – are considered when determining the precise meaning and boundaries of "free speech". The courts don't always get this right, but that's what they do. See the usual "fire in a crowded theater" example, which demonstrates not only an appropriate exception to free speech (if taken literally) but also an inappropriate one (if you look at the Supreme Court case it was invented in ), both of which were justified by how the speech in question would affect others.
It's merely a call to attention and then you need to listen to and process the subsequent message. The tone itself does not create a clear and present danger, but the subsequent message may.
There's no notion of panic or stampede with this tone, it only communicates "hey, listen up, there's something that may be important for you to know about". I'm sure that many of those living in America on HN have been subject to EAS messages that were not of serious concern since it's used pretty liberally for even minor concerns like a tropical storm.
It's also worth know about the Supreme Court case (Schenck v United States) that lead to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr's opinion that lead to this legal test, since the issue at hand in that case would most likely be protected by the 1st amendment today. Furthermore, Holmes eventually reversed his position in Abrams v United States.
No reasonable person would look at any of the examples where a fine has been issued over use of the EAS signal and conclude that any of those artistic statements were even close to creating a clear and present danger.
False alarms can create a danger because they condition people not to take an alarm seriously.
Even if people are pretty conscientious about treating alarms as if they are real, very few of them will continue doing so against peer pressure.
That'd be a stronger argument if the EAS and its predecessor the EBS were not broadcast with sufficient regularity that people approach such messages with some degree of skepticism already.
I was looking over the Wikipedia article for the EAS and I found one illegal broadcast interesting:
> In February 2011, the morning show of WIZM-FM in La Crosse, Wisconsin played a recording of the aforementioned "dead bodies" EAS hack. It inadvertently triggered the EAS on WKBT-DT, relaying both the message, as well as the hosts' laughter
Not even being able to discuss and listen to related primary material of a recent newsworthy event definitely gets into first amendment violation territory.
47 CFR 11.31 defines the AFSK signal used for transmitting EAS alerts. The encoder settings are unique enough to not be accidentally used in any regular setting. For emergency planning purposes especially in lessons learned post-Katrina, avoiding alert fatigue was deemed by internal & external evaluators as being critical. The cited code section is here: https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/47/11.31
As for being artistic, sometimes there are boundaries. This is one that shouldn’t be crossed.
The issue would be "an FCC licensed-station broadcasting the tones to the public on the public airwaves in violation of the rules governing their license". The rule is a technical restriction that's a condition of the broadcast license. Very different.
Also, I think there should be a law regarding the new electronic billboards, especially at night. They should have a smooth transition over a period of say 10 seconds, instead of instantaneously changing / flashing and distracting drivers.
On many phones' OSes you can disable audible amber alerts but not presidential alerts. Some people in network engineering at the mobile network operators in Canada screwed up big time.
Presidential alerts are only supposed to be used for absolute max priority events, such as literally a nuclear missile attack, a fire storm that's about to engulf a town, tsunami that will affect hundreds of thousands of people, etc.
if that was just the network engineers screwing up, they would have fixed it. Broadcasting amber alerts as "presidential" level is an intentional choice at the policy level.
I believe in the US “Presidential alerts“ actually require approval from POTUS. What’s the intended protocol in Canada?
The end result is cops in Burlington sending end of the world alerts that can't be silenced to people 1500 km and 15 hours away in Thunder Bay about events that took place 2 hours ago. It's complete lunacy.
The tone is so disruptive and loud people are calling 911 to complain. It's so jarring I'm shocked it hasn't resulted in fatal car collisions.
I've been in the states during amber alerts and even natural disaster warnings and the process is simple and effective. The alerts come in and you action them if warranted. Ours are literally the end of the world tone no matter what.
(eg. in Poland alerts are sent as plain old SMS)
WEA messages are encapsulated in Cellular Broadcast data (CB Data) payloads which are then encapsulated in System Information Blocks (SIB12 specifically). The way they are “routed” to your phone is by being near a tower in the coverage area of the alert. Even if you weren’t in range of the tower when the alert initially went off, you’ll still receive the message as soon as you are within range of the tower(s) broadcasting it (assuming the alert hasn’t been cleared). Each payload has the equivalent of a payload ID which is supposed to prevent duplicate notification on your device of the same alert (but for different reasons, isn’t always done right).
Possibly military/NORAD related, maybe at CFB North Bay, if they ever need to send an alert that is basically "ICBMs inbound, bend over and kiss your ass goodbye".
If you're a comedy or TV writer... it would probably never occur to you that this aspect of real life is illegal to reproduce on TV. (It certainly wouldn't occur to me.)
Seeing as this has happened to at least 3 prominent TV channels... it feels like the failure here is at a much higher level -- kind of like, if an intern wipes your prod database, it's not the intern's fault but the fault of your processes that allowed it to even be a possibility.
So... when did the FCC pass this rule? How did it make sure every broadcaster knew about it? Why didn't broadcasters add it to their content review process? Where did the failure occur?
I mean, it's not like this was a cost/benefit calculation the broadcasters made to try to get away with something -- it's obviously just out of sheer ignorance. So are the lawyers at the broadcasters totally incompetent or not being listened to... or is it the FCC's fault here for not ensuring the right people at each and every broadcaster actually found out about it in the first place and added it to their review processes?
It existed in 1934: https://transition.fcc.gov/Reports/1934new.pdf (search for 325).
> How did it make sure every broadcaster knew about it?
Broadcast TV only started in 1928, I think this law predates most of the current networks.
A $395,000 fine would be absolutely devastating for even an abnormally wealthy individual, but I've got to imagine that producing a professional television show comes with much higher costs.
Edit: another lazy Google search says a 30 second ad spot on Kimmel runs about $20k. That means they hit $400k with ~10 minutes of commercial? https://www.adweek.com/tv-video/new-data-shows-just-how-much...
If Kimmel decides to go ahead and make this a regular segment and flaunt the rules, I would expect the fines to multiply accordingly.