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Government, Communications Firms Work To Improve 911 Service

AT&T is rolling out cellphone location tracking designed to route emergency calls to 911 more quickly. The company says the new feature will be nationwide by July and should make it easier for an ambulance to reach someone experiencing a medical emergency. The AT&T upgrade is part of a broader effort to modernize emergency response. T-Mobile has also started using location-based routing, The federal government is in the midst of a nationwide push to get 911 call centers to adopt a technology called Next Generation 911, which will allow people not only to call 911 but also to send texts including images and video messages to the emergency line, reports Vox Recode.

Apple and Google have created new software that can directly pass on information from someone’s device, like information stored on a health app. The hope is that more data will save crucial time during emergencies. Privacy experts are warning that the same technology could be misused or exploited. “I just worry what happens the next time there’s a tragedy, the next time people are scared, and the next time there’s an opportunity to use this data in ways it was never intended,” said Albert Fox Cahn of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project). Because the 911 system was designed to work with landlines, calls to 911 via cellphones sometimes get routed to the wrong 911 center. In places that use older technology, cellphones will generally connect to the 911 operator associated with the antenna on the cell tower that processes the call, not the 911 operator in the jurisdiction the person calling is in. When these calls are misdirected, it can take several minutes to be connected to the right dispatcher. To address this problem, carriers are turning to the sensors in smartphones, like GPS, wifi antennas, accelerometers, and pressure sensors.


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