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Public Knowledge Urges FCC to Address Privacy Concerns with E911 Rules

January 15, 2015 , ,

This week, Public Knowledge and 16 other organizations sent a letter to the FCC Commissioners urging them to consider and resolve privacy concerns when they vote on “E911” wireless location accuracy later this month.

Public Knowledge has long supported the implementation of the FCC’s proposed rules that would allow 911 dispatchers to known a more precise location of people calling on cell phone while indoors. This is in response to multiple reports of 911 calls made from wireless devices not being accurately located. In many situations, 911 callers may not be able to tell the dispatcher their location.

The FCC is currently considering a proposal put forward by the wireless carriers and two public safety organizations to improve wireless 911 location accuracy. However, there are reasonable privacy concerns that have been raised. The letter we submitted to the FCC Commissioners still encourages them to implement strong wireless location accuracy rules, but also asks them to consider and address the privacy implications of these rules before new technology is implemented.

The proposed rules will require development of new location technologies. As explained in the letter, addressing privacy concerns at this early stage will ensure that entities required to comply with the E911 regulations are able to plan privacy protections into the development of those new technologies. Conversely, if the Commission does not resolve privacy concerns at this critical stage, it may lose the opportunity to address those concerns before highly precise, privacy threatening location technologies become entrenched without sufficient technical and regulatory protections.

We urge the FCC to require multiple privacy protections, including:

  • A mechanism whereby owners of wireless consumer home products are able to opt out of having their devices included in the National Emergency Address Database;
  • a system design in which E911 location functionality can only be triggered through the handset, and not remotely;
  • assurance that technologies designed to comply with E911 requirements will not be made available to third parties without consumers’ express opt-in consent;
  • assurance that consumers will be able to turn location services on or off via a global setting on their mobile device, as well as grant or deny access to location services to each application;
  • and assurance that information gathered from E911 technologies are not used by or disseminated to third parties, including government entities.

You can read the letter and download our official comments on Wireless E911 Location Accuracy Requirements here.

Image credit: Flickr user nadbasher