Apple’s iOS 12 to Share iPhone Location Information with 9-1-1 Centers
Tuesday, June 19, 2018 | Comments

Apple announced iOS 12, set for public release later this year, will allow U.S. iPhone users who call 9-1-1 to automatically and securely share their location data with public-safety answering points (PSAPs).

The announcement could potentially refocus wireless 9-1-1 location to device-based solutions from network-based technologies.

“This is really where we ultimately need to go with call routing,” said Walt Magnussen, PhD, Texas A&M Internet2 Technology Evaluation Center (ITEC) director. “There is a strong consensus that hand-based location is better than network-based because smartphones are providing emergency call routing and emergency caller tracking.”

The FCC requires wireless carriers to locate callers to within 50 meters at least 80 percent of the time by 2021. iOS location services are capable of exceeding this requirement, even in challenging, dense, urban environments, an Apple statement said.

The new operating system will allow Apple to make these benefits available to local 9-1-1 centers. Apple is using the RapidSOS IP-based NG911 Clearinghouse to share Hybridized Emergency Location (HELO) location data with 9-1-1 centers. HELO, which Apple launched in 2015, estimates a mobile 9-1-1 caller’s location using cell towers and on-device data sources such as GPS and Wi-Fi access points.

There are two parts to location information from a wireless 9-1-1 call delivered to a PSAP. A wireless call’s Phase I location is the cell tower data, and Phase II data is the location of the caller. Phase 2 data takes longer to transfer to the PSAP than Phase 1 data. However, the RapidSOS system more quickly delivers the location data of iOS users to 9-1-1 centers that upgrade existing software.

“We want more of the Phase 2 data,” Magnussen said. “Ultimately what we want to do is to route off that. If I can get a more accurate location and faster, then I can do a better job of routing too.”

In keeping with Apple’s focus on privacy, user data cannot be used for any nonemergency purpose, and only the responding 9-1-1 center will have access to the user’s location during an emergency call. The data is encrypted from end to end, an Apple spokesperson said.

Even if a user has turned off an iPhone’s location services, location services are always active during a 9–1-1 call because the FCC requires that location service be available for all 9-1-1 calls. Additionally, PSAPs generally receive the telephone number of the caller from the carrier handling the call.

“Communities rely on 9-1-1 centers in an emergency, and we believe they should have the best available technology at their disposal,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “When every moment counts, these tools will help first responders reach our customers when they most need assistance.”

“I see this now as a policy issue as much as it is a technology issue,” Magnussen said, noting that if devices provide 9-1-1 data, the device companies likely will require the same indemnification that carriers and software companies have. FCC rules, which focus on wireless carrier requirements, likely must be updated as well.

The FCC adopted more stringent indoor 9-1-1 location accuracy rules in 2015. In May, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) told the FCC it is concerned about how the wireless industry is interpreting “dispatchable location” for 9-1-1 location accuracy purposes, within the framework of the FCC’s fourth report and order.

“We’re thrilled that Apple is giving 9-1-1 centers access to device-based location data via a thoroughly tested, standards-based approach,” said Rob McMullen, president of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). “This will accelerate the deployment of next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1) for everyone, saving lives and protecting property.”

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