Data Privacy Vs. Life Safety

This week, an article by Nicole Lindsey that was published in CPO Magazine,  argued that citizen data privacy concerns outweigh the need for reliable location information being provided to first responders in the event of an emergency. This was in direct response to the Commission’s Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) for enhanced 911 location data.

In this FNPRM, US wireless carriers would need to start providing vertical location accuracy when a user placed a cellular 911 call. The ‘accuracy’ that was proposed was to be within a height of plus or minus 3 meters to help indicate the floor, or vertical ‘Z’ axis for users in multi-story buildings. The goal to be met, was to require this enhanced location data in the Top 25 U.S. markets by the date of April 2021, and then a secondary milestone of the Top 50 U.S. markets 2-years later, by 2023.

The alarming position taken is one that incites mistrust in our nation’s First Responders as well as the entire Public Safety infrastructure as a whole. In her article, Ms. Lindsey states, “For years, the biggest telecom network operators in the U.S. [. . .] have been secretly selling location data of their customers”. While that claim is obviously true, it does sensationalize the situation a bit, especially when linking the location data leaks to emergency call traffic within the network. By doing this, the article unfairly lumps our Nation’s 6,100+ Public Safety Answer Points (PSAPs) into a category that is akin to telemarketers peddling back and knee braces, as well as low cost health insurance plans and countless other scams being perpetrated on our public in the rash of Robocalling activities currently afoot.

The last I checked, PSAP’s we’re not trolling the general public looking to push fire and ambulance services on unsuspecting citizens. Also, I’m fairly certain that anyone that was having an emergency that needed to call 911 would want to share their precise location information in an effort to save their life. Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure most people would opt-in to that service. But, during an emergency, things happen quickly. Individuals don’t always or the ability to think with a clear head. It is for this reason that if a person indicates they’re having an emergency event, and they dial 911, it is likely a good idea to turn on location services if they’re off, and even a better idea to transmit that information to the PSAP so that the appropriate services can be dispatched to the correct and accurate address.

Yes, Robocalling, caller ID spoofing, and selling location-based data for nefarious purposes should all be illegal and curtailed using any means possible. But that should not impede or impact the ability for legitimate public safety requests to be processed by the network and the PSAP in a manner that provides them with detailed and discreet location information, including altitude.

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let’s focus on the problem and deliver a workable solution that is not only efficient and secure, but one that protects citizen privacy in non-emergency events.

Fletch – Follow me on Twitter @Fletch911

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Simplicity. It is clearly one of the main tenets of any good Bill or Law. While 9-1-1 telecommunicators and dispatchers have been referred to as our Nation’s FIRST 1st Responders, their position has been relegated to one that carries the very same classification as an administrative or clerical worker.

Why is this important? Congressional Representative Norma J. Torres states, “Federal agencies rely on the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC), a vast catalog of occupations, for statistical purposes.  The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) maintains the SOC.  Occupations are supposed to be classified according to the nature of the work performed.  However, the current version of the SOC categorizes Public Safety Telecommunicators as ‘Office and Administrative Support Occupations,’ which includes secretaries, office clerks, and taxicab dispatchers.  OMB recently conducted a revision of the SOC but failed to appropriately update the classification of Public Safety Telecommunicators. “

In her eyes, and the eyes of many others, these individuals should be categorized as “Protective Service Occupations,” which includes a broad range of other “protective” occupations that are more closely related to the job at hand, such as: lifeguards, fish and game wardens, parking enforcement workers, firefighters, and even playground monitors, among others. 

The 911 Saves Act is targeted at correcting this injustice and is one that YOUR Federal Legislator or Congressional Representative can get behind.


March 7, Rep. Torres will formally introduce the 911 SAVES Act, which (if passed) will reclassify Public Safety Telecommunicators and dispatchers. This is a huge moment for everyone working in 9-1-1, and a great opportunity to have our voices heard. Here’s how you can help:

  • Get up to speed. First, read NENA’s original comments supporting reclassification for a quick refresher on the issue. Then, read up on Representative Torres’ bill in the 911 SAVES Primer.
  • Connect with your Congressional contacts. They’d love to hear from you on this issue. Email them directly and ask if their bosses would be interested in either cosponsoring or expressing support for 911 SAVES. Here’s a quick Grassroots Guide for reaching out!
  • Email and tweet directly at your elected officials. Use NENA’s new Online Action Center to reach out directly to your local congressional offices by clicking here.
  • Watch the livestream of the 911 SAVES press conference on Rep. Torres’ Facebook page. She’ll be introducing the bill Thursday at 3:30pm Eastern — click here to go to her Facebook page, where the livestream will be hosted.

You can watch for updates here, or on the Blog site of my friend and colleague, Ricardo Marinez II

Fletch – @fletch911

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