Imagine what would happen if every cell phone tower in the country spontaneously combusted. We’d be in big trouble, which is why the Pentagon is exploring other ways to communicate in the event of an emergency. Chief among them is the idea to connect every cell phone in America with mesh networking technology.

Actually, the technology already exists in our cell phones. As the Department of Defense’s Chief Information Officer Terry Halvorsen pointed out to members of the President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee this week, every cell phone is basically just a small radio.

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“Should we mesh these together to propagate a broadcast signal to replace the old civil defense broadcast?” he asked. Halvorsen is referring to a Cold War-era program that would alert Americans of a military attack by bouncing signals from one radio station to another. You could technically do the same thing with cell phones.

“It would be unimaginable 50 years ago to talk about a situation where every citizen has a UHF transceiver in their pocket,” Halvorsen added. “But that’s what we have today, and we should think out of the box in how to leverage that in emergency situations.”

This type of mesh networking is already happening, in a way. Apps like FireChat (pictured above) enable cell phones to communicate with each other even when there’s no reception. This is how many protesters communicated during the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong last year. Meanwhile, in Cuba, thousands of people who can’t afford the country’s absurdly expensive internet service use wifi equipment to create mesh networks and communicate with each other. You can even use mesh networking technology to keep tracking of your belongings these days.

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The obvious concern with turning every cell phone in America into a giant mesh network is the possibility of someone hacking it and possibly sending out fake alerts. That and the whole Orwellian implication of the Pentagon tapping into all of our phones. But hey, that’s already happening.

[NextGov]

Image: Firechat app

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