Smartphone alert during NY manhunt draws criticism

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Officials in New York drew upon a new tool Monday morning to aide their manhunt of a suspect in this weekend’s bombings: the push alert.

Smartphone users in New York City were alerted that that law enforcement was looking for Ahmad Khan Rahami, a suspect who was later caught, a move that saw backlash from those who thought the push was uninformative or could have led to panic.

{mosads}“WANTED: Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28-yr-old male,” the alert said. “See media for pic. Call 9–1–1 if seen.”

It’s an unusual use of a system that has been in place for years. The Wireless Emergency Alerts system is regularly used to send AMBER Alerts or information during natural disasters, but less often while law enforcement is actively pursuing a suspect.

Rahami, who has been identified as a suspect in the Saturday bombing of a block in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan as well as a bombing in New Jersey, was caught after a shootout with police on Monday. He was wounded during his conflict with the officers, according to The New York Times.

Officials described their use of the alerts system as part of a fast-moving response to the attacks. The Atlantic reported that it took about 15 minutes for officials to draft and send the message.

But it was criticized by some as a poor use of the alerts system because its content was vague and did not include a picture of Rahami, instead directing users to seek out media reports featuring the image that authorities had released.

Critics of the alert also expressed worries that the it could lead to racial profiling by smartphone users who received it.

The maximum length of an alert is limited under federal rules. Motherboard reported earlier this year that some companies involved in the wireless industry were pushing back on a Federal Communications Commission attempt to extend the alerts and allow emergency authorities to add richer content.

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