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Feedback sought on extending Emergency Caller Location service

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 30 January 2020, 3:00 pm

The Privacy Commissioner is inviting public submissions on changes to the Emergency Caller Location service that would allow first responders to access the smartphone location of people at risk, even if a 111 call hasn't been made.

According to the release issued today: "The extensions, sought by emergency services, will allow the active collection and sharing of the location of any device believed to be in the possession of a person at risk (for example, lost in a national park, kidnapped, or having indicated an intention to harm themselves or others). The current system is passive, relying on a 111 call, and so does not assist emergency services to actively search for a person who is at risk but has not made an emergency call."

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards says he is "satisfied that these changes help our emergency services and search and rescue teams get to people more quickly, save more lives and reduce cost to the taxpayer."

"However, unregulated, the proposed changes could enable the locating of almost any individual in the country at any time. While this is neither our intention, nor the intention of the agencies permitted to use the system, the technology required to deliver the extended system could be intrusive if misused. For this reason, I want to be quite clear about my expectations in respect of the extensions."

In the Information Paper about the proposed amendment, it notes that the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment oversees the current system, but does not use the location information for its own purpose.

MBIE reports that in the first year of operation the system was used to determine the location of 400,000 emergency callers. Currently it can't be used if the emergency call drops, or if the person who needs to be located is not the emergency caller. The proposed extension to the service would enable this within strict boundaries.

"As a result of the safeguards and limitations outlined above, the new system cannot be used for any purposes other than locating an emergency caller, responding to an emergency, or maintaining a record of the information relied upon to respond to the emergency. Any use of the system to actively locate individuals for non-emergency purposes must be based on clear and express statutory authority, and we doubt that any current statutory regime would authorise this," the paper states.

Public submissions to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner are due by 28 February 2020, with more information here



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