Consumer Privacy Groups Raise Concerns Over Need for Protections in E-911 Roadmap

Keep up with the latest developments and legal issues in the telecommunications and emerging technology sectors, with exclusive access to a comprehensive collection of telecommunications law news,...

By Lydia Beyoud

Dec. 16 — A plan to improve location accuracy for indoor 911 calls, developed by public safety groups and phone carriers, poses a number of privacy concerns, including who would have access to a vast amount of personal data to be compiled into a national database, public advocacy groups said Dec. 15.

While a number groups have filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission praising the Roadmap for Improving E911 Location Accuracy (Roadmap), developed in collaboration with AT&T Inc., Sprint Corp., T-Mobile US Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. along with the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), a coalition of privacy and consumer advocacy groups said the proposal “raises significant privacy related concerns that are not adequately addressed in the roadmap itself.”

A coalition of privacy and consumer advocacy groups said the proposal “raises significant privacy related concerns that are not adequately addressed in the roadmap itself.”

In a Nov. 20 public notice, the FCC sought feedback on the Roadmap, which the developers said would improve location accuracy for 911 calls made indoors and by mobile wireless callers, and better track the horizontal and vertical location of callers .

The groups that developed the Roadmap said the proposal “contrasts with current and proposed outdoor technologies that provide estimates of location and face challenges with indoor location accuracy.” The proposal was filed in response to the FCC's third further notice of proposed rulemaking in the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau's proceeding (PS Docket No. 07-114).

Primary Concerns

Chief among the privacy coalition's concerns is who will have access to consumer data compiled into a proposed National Emergency Address Database (NEAD), how that data would be protected, whether it could be sold to third parties, and whether consumers would have opt in or opt out of choices made available to them, Public Knowledge, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and 14 other groups or individuals said in their FCC filing.

“ There is no indication that the database will be secure, used only for E911 purposes, and never sold to or otherwise shared with third parties, including government entities,” the groups said.

“Users of networked devices likely do not expect that information about their device and physical address will be stored in a national database that is accessible to multiple parties,” they said, adding that “as the database is updated over time, it could reveal the exact address of individuals who have moved from one location to another and brought their networked devices with them.”

Without adequate protections, a possible hacking breach of the NEAD could also allow malicious actors to obtain individuals' network addresses, and through these their physical addresses, the groups said.

Calls for Privacy Regulations

Public Knowledge and the coalition called on the FCC to pass regulations that require commercial mobile radio service carriers and others to treat mobile 911 location information and the NEAD as protected information.

The groups said the FCC had failed to pass adequate rules to ensure consumer privacy in a previous round of rulemaking on mobile E-911 location information. “The technologies that became widespread as a result of those rules were exploited by third party companies in ways that consumers did not anticipate or agree with, and regulators have since struggled to prevent abuses of consumer location information,” they said.

The coalition asked the FCC to issue a further notice of proposed rulemaking proposing privacy regulations for wireless E-911 location data if the commission moves forward with an order in the docket and determines the record is insufficient to support the regulations they recommended.

They also asked for the FCC to ensure privacy advocates get a place at the table in further developing the industry and public safety group-developed plan.

Competitive Carriers' Road Map

In a separate filing on the same docket, the Competitive Carriers Association said it generally supported the approach and concepts in the Roadmap, but encouraged the FCC “to take into account technical and economic realities that improved location accuracy requirements present for smaller carriers and the consumers they serve.”

The group, which represents smaller telecommunications companies, said the Roadmap is in many respects “preferable to the proposals contained in the Commission's Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” in the proceeding.

CCA said the Roadmap's commitment by nationwide carriers to provide tiered percentages of location fixes using heightened location accuracy technologies “is an elegant way to move towards better accuracy standards, while at the same time safeguarding against the potential that new technologies do not develop on the timelines suggested by particular vendors.”

The trade group said it is also “actively exploring” with its members and public safety representatives a framework similar in structure to the Roadmap, but which takes into account “the unique needs of and challenges faced by competitive carriers, especially in rural America.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Lydia Beyoud in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at

Text of the privacy coalition's filing is at

The CCA filing is at


Request Tech & Telecom on Bloomberg Law