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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