back to article Let police track you through your mobe - it's for your OWN GOOD

Two thirds of emergency calls are made from mobile phones, many of them from people who don't know where they are, and Ofcom wants to know if we should be tracking their locations. When a call is made to 999 (or 112, or 911, depending on your neck of the woods) the communication provider is required to provide the caller's …

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  1. Cliff

    Sensible approach

    Ask the question and allow people to weigh up the options.

    I, personally, would welcome that or something similar. I travel to strange places, don't really care if the services can track my movements should they ever find a perverse need to, and as a citizen think getting more value from services we fund seems a bit of a winner.

    1. LarsG

      Re: Sensible approach or is it?

      Today, tracking for 999 calls,

      Tomorrow legislation introduced for compulsory phone tracking... Even better than an identity card.

      Ok so it's obvious that they do this already, under the table, off the books but it's only used to 'keep us safe'

      Or is it?

      1. codejunky Silver badge

        Re: Sensible approach or is it?

        @ LarsG

        This is my concern too. It is a fantastic idea that we could call emergency services and they set off to us before we try to explain where we think we might be (or the last landmark we passed). However it is the ridiculous lack of trust we have in our gov's who continuously try to remove our trust in them.

        The last gov were toying with the idea of tracking its populations every move so they could steal more money from us. There is a distinct lack of trust in this gov by a lot of people. Do we want gov's we dont like prying into our every movement?

        Such overreach is not difficult for a public sector who abused anti terrorism laws to hunt people with dogs. Overreach is too easy and too much the norm.

        1. Stacy

          Re: Sensible approach or is it?

          Please take off the tin foil hats guys.

          Should I find myself in the middle of nowhere and in need of the emergency services I would want them to know my exact location so that they could find me.

          As was said this already happens with home emergency calls, so why not make it mandatory on mobiles?

          I'm all for protecting privacy, and against the mantra 'If you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear', but I fail to see the Mr Burns like 'Excellent' moment for the spooks here to makes mobiles do the same as fixed phones already do.

          This is not the same as the government collecting information on all of your phone calls, who to and at what time to see if you are a bad person...

          1. doronron

            Re: Sensible approach or is it?

            So you want your location sent when you make a 999 call, in case you don't know it and are outside in the middle of nowhere.

            "I'm all for protecting privacy,"

            Good, so what protections are you proposing for when your NOT making a 999 call?

            Or *don't* want the location sent?

            Or are just wandering around and thus free to associate with people without being tracked?

            Or are a whistleblower revealing law breaking by a military agency on a power grab?

            Or just bob, who doesn't think his pub crawl is any of the governments business?

            I don't quite get why you have a smartphone and can pull up a map, but don't know here you are?? Or can't tell them your gps location. Or can't simply install one of the apps that sends your location. But I'll play along.

            "This is not the same as the government collecting information on all of your phone calls, who to and at what time to see if you are a bad person..."

            Well there's the elephant in the room. NSA & GCHQ collect metadata, it includes tower and signal strength (i.e. location to about 60 metres). Yet its not legal, Snoopers Charter was not passed. So *laws* alone won't protect that data.

            So what *technical* measures do you propose to protect that 999 location, data?

            And what crimes do you propose if they defeat those technical measures?

            I still don't get it, why can't you just use one of the many GPS apps that sends your location? They also interpolate from the tower data too you know? They even interpolate it from wifi to a very high accuracy.

            "Please take off the tin foil hats guys."

            If Snowden is reality I wonder what a tin-foil hat person is now? Patronising remark aside, Snowden did have to put his phone in the fridge.

            1. Stacy

              Re: Sensible approach or is it?

              OK, sorry. My bad.

              I assumed that everyone had a right to the emergency services, and not just those with smart phones and data contracts.

              My parents don't have a smart phone, nor would they have the faintest clue on how to use it if they did.

              What happens to those people with no data contract, and so no access to those maps? (Like, I don't know, people visiting the country...)

              What happens to those people who are seriously injured who can can just about make a call, but couldn't get to the maps app, wait to find their location and then try to remember what the map said and repeat it to the emergency services. Especially when in the middle of nowhere and your maps shows you a rather large expanse of green countryside.

              You are right, the GCHQ are doing bad things (as I think I alluded to in my post). And you know what? They didn't have to steal emergency service data in order to do it!

              Yes, take of the tin foil hats. The government (or at least the civil servants) are doing quite nasty things with our data. You don't need conspiracy theories to make that point.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Sensible approach or is it?

              There is already a system in use by Mountain Rescue teams called SARLOC which is used to identify the location of missing people who have a GPS smartphone.

              It does have significant limitations in that the user must have a data connection and location services enabled (preferably GPS obviously) however it has been used numerous times in a search and rescue situations and has saved endless hours of searching, especially for walkers who have no idea where they are and connection to a single cell does not triangulate.

              The location is initiated by software that sends out a simple text and a link is clicked to allow the location to be established. The persons location is then sent to the search management software to pinpoint their location.

              However, Mountain Rescue, despite being all volunteers and relying on public donations, are specialists in this area and perform many lowland and urban searches in even built-up areas as they are the first call out by the Police for such matters in many regions.

              A network based approach would make this easier but it would be technically very difficult and how long would it take before network operators are forced to record the location of every single call you make and just being in the wrong place at the wrong time could see you banged up.

          2. rh587 Silver badge

            Re: Sensible approach or is it?

            "As was said this already happens with home emergency calls, so why not make it mandatory on mobiles?"

            Because no one can tell if you're in, nor track your movements just because they know the address of your landline.

            I'd have thought a privacy-friendly solution for smart phones would be to require all manufacturers or network operators (for skinned versions of Android and the like) to include a "999 app" on the phone. Push the big red button and it dials for you whilst also transmitting the location from the GPS chip.

            Either that or a daemon in the phone software that transmits the coordinates in the background when either 999 or 112 are dialled.

            That way there is no need for the network to track (or have the ability to track) a phone 24/7 on the off-chance it [i]might[/i] make an emergency call - the phone provides location data as and when it makes that call.

            As they are increasingly supporting SOS-by-text, GPS coordinates would be relatively trivial to include in an SMS message. An app could format it, or a daemon could invisibly append any message sent to 999/112 with [GPS=51.503201, -0.127012] or something that the control room software can easily parse.

            I'll grant that doesn't solve the problem for dumb phones but could be one way forward.

            1. PatientOne

              Re: Sensible approach or is it?

              ""As was said this already happens with home emergency calls, so why not make it mandatory on mobiles?"

              Because no one can tell if you're in, nor track your movements just because they know the address of your landline."

              Really? If someone uses the land line, then someone is at that physical location unless they've sliced into that particular phone line to make the call. So it doesn't matter WHO made the call, they know WHERE the call was made from.

              And this isn't about tracking, this is all about the location the call was made from. Not all mobile phones have GPS built in, or they might not have the power to activate GPS. The cell towers can triangulate your position, but it's not exact. It's why it's better to use 112 when calling emergency services from a mobile phone - it's picked up by the cell towers and used to give a better triangulation to locate you than if you use 999. The question is: Do we refine that further or not.

              1. rh587 Silver badge

                Re: Sensible approach or is it?

                "And this isn't about tracking, this is all about the location the call was made from. Not all mobile phones have GPS built in, or they might not have the power to activate GPS."

                And you're missing the entire point of the debate - which is that if a mechanism to accurately identify the location of phones exists, it can be subverted to constantly monitor the location of a phone - i.e. tracking.

                Triangulation can already be done, but as mentioned by other posters is a bastard to do legally (for very good reasons).

                From a privacy point of view it is preferable for the handset to send it's location when the call is make, rather than the network being able to spy on it.

                The other consideration is that if I'm in a valley - say I've taken a tumble whilst hillwalking, or I'm in Highfield (deep in the middle of Southampton, with utterly shocking cell signal) I might only have line of sight to one or two cell masts, which severely opens the error bars on my triangulated position. I might on the other hand have a decent GPS fix to within 10metres.

                A system whereby 999/112 calls/texts are appended with GPS coordinates, and which then falls back to triangulation if that data is not provided offers a far superior and more accurate service, with a fail mechanism for phones without GPS or that can't see the sky. Triangulation will get you within what, 50m at best (in an area with high tower density, less in rural areas or a long way from masts). GPS will practically walk you onto it, even in rural areas.

                It's the same reason 4G phones support previous protocols - in case they don't have a 4G signal available.

                The idea of building a system solely around triangulation seems rather short sighted when you could be gathering much better location data direct from the device and not bothering the networks with triangulating calls for you.

              2. M Gale

                Re: 999 or 112

                Given the situation that many people will be in when they want emergency services, I don't think many people will be thinking too clearly about which number to dial. They might even skip the whole "unlock the phone" palaver and hit the emergency call button instead. Which dials 999.

                The question is, why does 999 not use tower triangulation if 112 does?

                And personally, I thought the emergency services had access to the phone's location chippery anyway. Meh.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Sensible approach or is it?

          "The last gov were toying with the idea of tracking its populations every move so they could steal more money from us. There is a distinct lack of trust in this gov by a lot of people. Do we want gov's we dont like prying into our every movement?

          Such overreach is not difficult for a public sector who abused anti terrorism laws to hunt people with dogs. Overreach is too easy and too much the norm."

          Taking this approach is to accept that lives will be lost, deliberately making the service ineffective.

      2. PatientOne

        Re: Sensible approach or is it?

        It's not tracking, it's locating.

        I call 999, my location is identified and passed on. No entity history required.

        Phone tracking sufferes one problem: It tracks the phone. That's it. It has no idea who is carrying the phone, or if anyone is near it. As such it isn't useful as a replacement for ID cards. All it can do it map where the phone has been, and then hope it was where I was and that I didn't leave it in a bag on the bus, or in the boot of the car, or at home, or the battery went flat and stopped responding, or I'm in an area with bad reception/out of coverage...

        Oh, and if you call emergency services on your mobile, dial 112, not 999. 112 allows for a better triangulation of your position from the cell towers. (That's from the advice from the energency services, by the way).

        1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

          Re: Sensible approach or is it?

          Oh, and if you call emergency services on your mobile, dial 112, not 999. 112 allows for a better triangulation of your position from the cell towers. (That's from the advice from the energency services, by the way).

          Well they shouldn't give that advice, because it's nonsense. 112 and 999 both connect to the same operators who have access to the same database. Ofcom is quite clear on that: "999 and 112 should, as far as is reasonably practicable, be given equal treatment within the whole of the UK public telephone network". Any triangulation is done through the phone's identity, and has no relation to the number that was dialled.

          They only possble advantage of 112 is that the ability of phones to make emergency calls even when locked, or without a SIM for the available networks, may be implemented for 112 and not for 999, perhaps for a non-UK phone.

          1. Brian Morrison

            Re: Sensible approach or is it?

            Just remember that a GSM/3G/LTE phone doesn't call 999 or 112, it recognises the number dialled as an emergency number and requests a call of type Emergency.

            So, when this happens simply make the firmware in the phone enable the GPS (if fitted) and provide as accurate a location as it can via a data connection that is routed to the screen of the emergency operator. No GPS? Then provide a best estimate position based on cell site triangulation or other information (WiFi location?). Otherwise fall back to even less accurate location data.

            1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

              Re: Sensible approach or is it? @ Brian Morrison

              I like the ideas you put forward. Now, remembering that I a not a hardware person, especially wrt phones, what about including a system that punts more than the usual power to the phone's radio transmitter so that there is a better chance of identifying it (either as a big signal in the middle of lots of others, or as a faint signal in the middle of nothing)? If that is rubbish, be gentle with me!

    2. Gnomalarta

      Re: Sensible approach

      It could be a service offered by GCHQ.

    3. Mark 65

      Re: Sensible approach

      and to make the process more efficient for when you do dial 999 the exact location of your phone should be tracked all the time thus not wasting valuable time when that vital call goes out. Can't see a problem myself.

  2. Suricou Raven

    This is one time when I wouln't mind the government tracking phones.

    As for how? Use them all. Cell initially, more precise network tracking where the hardware is available, GPS/google-wifi-database where feature is turned on. An obvious improvement is just to get manufacturers to add a new feature in a firmware update so that making an emergency call automatically activates GPS and wifi listening, and continues to operate it after the call is terminated, sending the location (together with a unique call identifier) as soon as it's available. While the ambulence is on its way to the approximate location and the call-maker is being talked through first aid, the phone can set to the time-consuming task of getting a location fix automatically. It shouldn't take more than a few minutes at most.

    1. Cliff

      Agreed, the appliances are despatched to the general location early on in the call, then the operator gets the extra information needed from the caller whilst the appliances are bowling through the streets. If the phone would do likewise and start the process of collecting that essential data and transferring it on connection, then it doesn't matter if it takes a few minutes as the alliance is already going to be heading to the area and can use the fix when it arrives.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I doubt any sensible person would mind their location being shared when making an emergency call, particularly when approximate location is already tracked and recorded by the network.

      The problem of handset based (GPS/wifi) solutions is that they depend on a compatible and enabled phone with sufficient battery life to do that, even in the way you suggest. So no use for dumb phones, possible problems for foreign sims roaming in the UK, and always the risk of unforseen tech or power problems (eg with rooted phones running custom ROMS, or unsupported phones).

      I reckon on that basis the answer has to be network based. Lets see what the industry reckon the cost of network based tracking is, and whether that makes sense. For some ballpark figures, if the costs nationally were half a billion quid to add this capability (which seems generous to me), and these were amortised over four years, then it adds about 20p to each monthly bill (or equivalent on PAYG top ups).

      Given the hundreds of quid being added to (say) my energy bill by government rules that don't benefit me, adding a few pence to my monthly phone bill seems a no brainer.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Other thing is what happens in a dip or remote area where the GPS/cell signal is crap?

        1. M Gale

          Other thing is what happens in a dip or remote area where the GPS/cell signal is crap?

          Then you have a problem that a better phone or battery-eating GPS tracking is not going to solve.

          Wonder if anybody still listens to CB channel 9?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ofcom has obviously twigged that the recent NSA/GCHQ "revelations", and earlier experience of what happens whenever the authorities get their hands on some new power, are going to make people exceedingly suspicious that a perfectly reasonable feature (locating 999 callers) will be indiscriminately abused and used to routinely track anybody, anytime.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      @Credas

      It may well be a useful solution but being 50m off in busy London could mean an extra 5 minutes travel for an Ambulance and where I live it could be another 10 miles of country lanes if you take the wrong fork in the the road.

      I certainly wouldn't want to be tracked all the time but I would imagine it wouldn't be too hard for a telecoms operator to instigate a location finding service on an emergency service call setup. I'm a bit out of touch with the technology but unless its changed dramatically it shouldn't be hard at all and done and dusted by the time the operator answers.

      Trouble for me is I have to travel 1/2 mile to get a signal!

      1. You have not yet created a handle

        Re: @Credas

        My BMW does it now - I have an SOS button that sends all the data through to the control centre if I push it, whilst initiating the call - I'm led to believe it was also automatically make that call if I am in an accident, so it's all possible and makes sense to me.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As other users have said..

    When 999 or whatver is called, the GPS is then activated. I would rather the gps take 3 mins to lock as opposed to the 30 minutes taken to try and triangulate my apx posistion.

    If nothing else it can display long-lat co-ordinates on the screen for the person in need of help to read out aloud, or hell, have the synthesised reader in the phone repeat it constantly, like a homing beacon if you will...

    Now if only i could get the importance of having a mobile phone in the car (just for emergencies) accross to my elderly father...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: As other users have said..

      I like the 'synthesised reader' idea. It neatly makes the whole solution local to the act of dialling 999 and minimises scope for abuse. +1 for that.

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: As other users have said..

        Better than synthesised voice, it's a computer network, so use that. If you dial a recognised emergency number the GPS could be activated and an SMS with the location sent to the emergency operators as soon as the position is determined.. It would not be difficult to have that position information linked to the phone number so that the operator dealing with the alert gets it on-screen, even if the call doesn't go through.

        That would deal with situations where a signal is too weak to make a voice call, but SMS can get through, and when someone is unable to speak either through injury or a handicap. A child can be taught to dial 112 and help will come, even if they say nothing.

        Make it an option in the phone settings for the tinfoil hat brigade.

    2. Crisp

      Re: importance of having a mobile phone in the car

      Get a cheap nokia brick phone like a Nokia 5100 and keep it in the glove box. It'll hold it's charge for ages, and it will let you make emergency calls even without a sim.

    3. Refugee from Windows
      Holmes

      Re: As other users have said..

      Giving lat/long or even NGR is not a lot of use unless whoever is on the other end of the phone can actually deal with it. We have a record of talking to the operator on the other end of the phone, telling them to click the little down arrow on their screen next to the box marked "postcode" to allow them to stretch to changing the parameter to NGR, then they could do something with it. Un-named ambulance service covering National Park then decided to call out the Air Ambulance, as it must have been half a mile from a drivable road.

  5. Mugs

    The Swiss have an app for that

    I can see no reason not to provide location data for emergency calls. It's not a slippery slope, it's a special case.

    The Swiss have an app called echo112. It uses your smartphone's GPS to determine your position, call the correct emergency number for your location and sends your location over the data network or text. The emergency operator gets your location by checking the echo112 website: http://www.echo112.com/

    "Field tested by Swiss Emergency services for the last two years, now available worldwide"

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: The Swiss have an app for that

      Thanks, Mugs. I hadn't seen that before. I've now installed it on my phone. It does seem to have some limitations (it needs to be behind the lock-screen, so others can't access it, and it needs the GPS manually activating), and I'm not sure if it changes the language of the message sent out depending on where I am, but it is a good start to what we are talking about here.

  6. T. F. M. Reader

    Tradeoffs

    OK, let's say that newer smartphone OS versions can be tweaked to switch on GPS and WiFi and whatever "location services" are available when 999 or equivalent is dialled. I assume various cases when it does not work (old software, no GPS in the handset, dumb/feature phone, foreign phone that does not recognize the emergency number) are fine.

    * Should the functionality be configurable by the user (allow/deny)?

    * The user may be unaware that extra stuff was activated. Should it be switched off when the call ends (if it was off)? X minutes after the call ends? A notification presented to the user with a choice of "keep on / switch off"?

    * Should battery level be checked so that activating extra stuff won't drain it too fast?

    * Is it so difficult to imagine cases where the caller - or the owner of the phone used - might want to place an emergency call but remain anonymous and unlocatable? The emergency may not involve him/her directly, the services may not need to be deployed to precisely the caller's location, etc.

    * If there is a mechanism to activate precise location beacon when dialling a specific set of numbers, who will convince me that it cannot be done by, say, making a call or sending an SMS to me? Or, say, by pressing a particular password/PIN (joel's_123_backdoor or something?) on the locked screen?

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Tradeoffs

      These are excellent questions. My thoughts are:

      "* Should the functionality be configurable by the user (allow/deny)?"

      Yes. There is no duty to contact the emergency services, nor to give any information you don't want to. If a user wants to use the "basic" emergency call system, then they should be allowed to, at their own risk.

      "* The user may be unaware that extra stuff was activated. Should it be switched off when the call ends (if it was off)? X minutes after the call ends? A notification presented to the user with a choice of "keep on / switch off"?"

      I think that would have to mandated in the specs for all sorts of reasons. I think a combination of switching off after X minutes and a user-operable choice is optimal.

      "* Should battery level be checked so that activating extra stuff won't drain it too fast?"

      *Any* call is better than none, and so the phone signal should be prioritised, then wifi, and GPS only if there is sufficient power after the other two have been switched on.

      "* Is it so difficult to imagine cases where the caller - or the owner of the phone used - might want to place an emergency call but remain anonymous and unlocatable? The emergency may not involve him/her directly, the services may not need to be deployed to precisely the caller's location, etc."

      This is a common situation (consider an elderly relative ringing up to say they don't feel well, and then going quiet mid-sentence), and so there needs to be an override to a non-automated system.

      "* If there is a mechanism to activate precise location beacon when dialling a specific set of numbers, who will convince me that it cannot be done by, say, making a call or sending an SMS to me? Or, say, by pressing a particular password/PIN (joel's_123_backdoor or something?) on the locked screen?"

      Yes, it will be possible, but I would say this is going to be somewhat self-limiting. The battery isn't going to last any time if the whole range of locating devices is switched on (my Galaxy Note will do about an hour with the GPS switched on). Even the most clueless of users is going to notice their device repeatedly becoming dead after a short time (though what they would do about it is another question!)

      1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        Re: Tradeoffs

        Actually, on re-reading your last point I realise I missed your point. You are talking about a "spot-check" of location, I think.

        That is the weakness of such a system - if it is there, it is hack/crackable, and how trivial it would be to do it. It is where my, and probably others', concerns come in. I suppose there could be a challenge/response system built-in (without a specific response from the emergency services' end of things, the data are not sent), but that has problems in terms of what the response is, how often it is changed, and international standardisation.

  7. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    80:20

    People have identified a number of situations where there may be problems - rural areas, limited functionality on phones. But that's no reason not to press on with a solution (I like the swiss echo112 idea) - just because you can't handle 100% of the situations, doesn't mean you shouldn't implement something that improves things 80% of the time. After all, the basic 999 doesn't work a lot of the time - if a phone isn't available, if the person has collapsed and is alone, outside mobile range etc. - and that isn't seen as a reason not to offer a 999 service.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 80:20

      "People have identified a number of situations where there may be problems - rural areas, limited functionality on phones. But that's no reason not to press on with a solution "

      No, it's no reason not to press on with a trial to establish how well it would work (or a reviewing of the Swiss and other experience).

      Even with a modern smartphone in areas of network coverage there's often topographic circumstances where the typical cheapy phone GPS receiver doesn't work with any accuracy for point locations, even though the software makes a good fist of your location as you drive, so rushing out a handset based measure could be a half baked fix that then becomes a barrier to a better, if slightly pricier network solution.

      Wouldn't you rather have the best affordable solution, rather than the quickest knee jerk solution?

      1. rh587 Silver badge

        Re: 80:20

        "Even with a modern smartphone in areas of network coverage there's often topographic circumstances where the typical cheapy phone GPS receiver doesn't work with any accuracy for point locations, even though the software makes a good fist of your location as you drive, so rushing out a handset based measure could be a half baked fix that then becomes a barrier to a better, if slightly pricier network solution.

        Wouldn't you rather have the best affordable solution, rather than the quickest knee jerk solution?"

        There's often topographic circumstances why triangulation is less accurate than GPS.

        Why not both? Why limit it to phone OR network?

        Some phones don't have GPS, whilst some calls may have GPS available but come from the edge of coverage where they only have the most tenuous of signals from a single mast, rendering triangulation not especially helpful.

        It doesn't seem too difficult for the call centre software to parse the call/text for embedded GPS coordinates - and on failing to find them, falls back to requesting triangulation data. Reduces the burden on networks, provides coverage in both areas where triangulation wouldn't work as well as areas where GPS is compromised.

        Also, your assumption that phone GPS chips provide a poor point fix is a bit sweeping - some phones may have decent chips, and indeed over the next 5/10/15 years superior affordable chips may become available for handset manufacturers. In which case they might make your pricier network solution look rushed and inaccurate!

  8. Richard Rae

    For me it;s simple

    If I am in a crisis then please by all means track me withing 1/2 a millimeter of my position. If it means that there is someone that can help me / save me or whatever go for it.

    In regards to the 'wider net' of monitoring think of this...

    Facebook - checking in location and tagging your 'chats' on the fly

    Photos - geo tagging

    Google - Google now service and g+

    WEather widgets taht are set to 'my location'

    Instagram

    would not be surprised for twitter (don't use it so no idea)

    numerous applications that get this info...

    So people are happy to 'share' their location with these coorporates but as soon as the 'gov' wants it.. OH MY GOD THEY ARE BIG BROTHER etc....

    Wake up, smell the coffee you are not that important!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: you are not that important!

      oh, but I am ... at least to me :-)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: For me it;s simple

      "Wake up, smell the coffee you are not that important!"

      Yet important enough to be spied on? And important enough that my location needs to go to the government all the time just in case I have a crisis?

      I'm confused, am I important or not???

      "So people are happy to 'share' their location with these coorporates but as soon as the 'gov' wants it.. OH MY GOD THEY ARE BIG BROTHER etc...."

      NSA are not my government, I didn't elect them, and I don't have a vote in the US elections. I think you are conflating the emergency services with a military spook breaking the law. That's a disservice to the Ambulance men and Firemen.

    3. codejunky Silver badge

      Re: For me it;s simple

      @ Richard Rae

      "Facebook - checking in location and tagging your 'chats' on the fly

      Photos - geo tagging

      Google - Google now service and g+

      WEather widgets taht are set to 'my location'

      Instagram

      would not be surprised for twitter (don't use it so no idea)

      numerous applications that get this info..."

      Great for you. Of that list I have a facebook account where I do very little (cant remember the last time I posted or messaged) and this is from 2 computers (not my mobile) one at home and one at work. The rest I dont use. I have a smart phone I regret because all I care about is call and text. The smart phone does nothing else I am interested in and I find it takes longer and is less reliable than a standard mobi.

      So while you are so unimportant you are happy to put out all that info if someone (maybe future GF at any security service) found you important. I am sure snowdon was unimportant too, until he became important.

      This information is already being abused and laws too. Such a service would be fantastic and helpful, but what is the cost when you have cretins abusing it for their own gain?

    4. Triggerfish

      Re: For me it;s simple

      Except I'm not happy to and I don't, as far as I'm concerned its none of their business.

      With the possible exception of turning on locations for the odd time I use the phone as a sat nav.

      I don't have any problems tbh with the gov tracking my location for emergency calls, we just need to make sure that the rules are drafted properly with no leeway to allow other concerns to get their sticky fingers in.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: For me it;s simple

      So people are happy to 'share' their location with these coorporates but as soon as the 'gov' wants it.. OH MY GOD THEY ARE BIG BROTHER etc....

      I doubt it : those people would see nothing to be concerned about. The ones that are expressing concern would, I wager, not be the sort to want to tell the world where they are at every opportunity.

    6. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: For me it;s simple @Richard Rae

      The examples you post are all used by choice, and can be avoided entirely or switched off. Your argument could be used to advocate cameras in every bedroom/toilet to monitor for health problems.

      There is a big difference between these kind of apps and something that is mandated by governments.

  9. Arachnoid

    The AA have an app for that

    The UK Automobile Assosiation have an app that will track your position via the mobiles gps so why not just make one for emergency calls.It will then be up to the end user weather they install it or not.

    1. davemcwish

      Re: The AA have an app for that

      Tried that once to see how well it worked, it didn't as the operator didn't know where I was and had to provide details.

  10. an it guy

    how to do this?

    I know that mobile phone operators can knowingly boost the power of their signal based on weather conditions to know locally what strength of signal is needed. Surely with a bit of information from a second tower (assuming directionality is known), you can quite easily put the emergency services in the ballpark, as the signal strength should help with refining the distance. Mobile masts aren't going anywhere

    After all, the direction finder part is how a VOR on a plane works, and can give you quite good accuracy going 100miles an hour.

    1. Tromos

      Re: how to do this?

      Triangulating relative signal strengths from at least three towers would do a reasonable job if the paths to all were free of obstructions and reflections. The aircraft VOR relies on two signals, one being an omnidirectional reference and the other is a narrow rotating beamed signal whose phase w.r.t. the reference signal depends on the angle of the rotating aerial. As mobile phone masts lack this rotating element there is no way a single tower will be able to provide directional information. In a built-up area the best way would be using WiFi SSIDs compared against a central database (I believe Google has quite a good one) and would only require the WiFi to come on for less than a second, hardly going to make any difference to the battery status, especially if it dims the screen while it does so.

      This is one of the few beneficial uses of tracking and should be put to use even if it isn't very accurate and doesn't help in all cases, it could just make a crucial difference in a few.

  11. Fletchulence

    I honestly assumed

    they already did this. Broadcasting my location if I dial 999 seems sensible. Doing it for no reason doesn't.

    Install an app to do it? I can't see getting around to it until it's too late. This would need to be at the network level, not the handset level.

  12. davemcwish

    Coverage?

    I haven't read the report but is coverage addressed? All the operators are piling in 4G kit but only where there is a high density of users where they can make a tidy profit. I was ~4 miles from the centre of Romford, yes that Essex town, and had nothing from my provider. I appreciate that my iPhone has an emergency call button and probably could jump onto another providers network but could be an issue in rural areas wheer the providers can't be bothered to put up even a 2g cell cos it isn't profitable.

  13. Jess

    they should be able to do a bit better than just the cell, with current equipment.

    Given that smartphones can work out their location reasonably well from just the relative strength of local transmitters, it should be possible for associated receivers to reverse the process. (Even if it only works well half the time, it will still be a gain).

    An emergency app would be a good idea.

    It would connect by any possible route; standard mobile internet, a special emergency APN or wifi (with public networks being mandated to allow the correct traffic to the emergency system's servers) failing that it would use MMS or SMS.

    When used it would have the facilities of making a call, recording a voice message or a video or sending a written message and photos.

    The options would be:

    Make an emergency call. It would work like a normal call, but it would send an SMS or data message with all the location detail the phone has to the emergency center, which would be matched with the call for the operators.

    Send an emergency text message. Send a written message describing the emergency, this would automatically contain all the location information, and alert the user if more location information is required. This would be sent to an emergency SMS center that could also be used manually from any phone.

    Send an emergency media message, photo, voice or video.

    Record an emergency as it happens. Uploaded directly to the servers, if possible.

    It would also have an automatic answer mode, where it the emergency service could hear what is going on, for example in cases of kidnap. (Only working once the app is activated.)

    Phones would offer whichever of these options they are capable of.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: they should be able to do a bit better than just the cell, with current equipment.

      It's accurate to about 20-60 meters from cell towers alone.

      With 2 towers visible it's 2 locations you could be at, but not really because the historic data shows which of the two it is.

      With 1 tower visible, well I've never seen that since you must always be handing off from one cell to the next otherwise you'd be at the edge of coverage. But again the historic data reveals where you are on the theoretical circle.

      Strange that Ofcom should be raising this problem just as GCHQ and NSA are telling people they don't track location. Which is odd, given they admitted to getting the phone meta data and that *DOES* track location to a high accuracy.

      But hey, 999! Be afraid! Terrorists!

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mesh

    Perhaps all phones should be made to communicate with each other and log the past so many phones it can 'see' using any method they can and then when the emergency call is made any other phones on the same cell can be polled to see if they either have location information or can be triangulated with more cells etc.

    Maybe too complex but I'm thinking with CCTV that no-one (well, many people) minds being filmed by hundreds of different companies and neither mind that the police have access to this when requested.... in fact it can be desireable.

    what they don't want is a big centralised system which the police can just monitor whenever they please to track you "for your safety and security"... so if we can do it in a private/community way then it's much better.

  15. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Going back a decade ...

    ... some service providers reduced the prices of mobile calls when the call was made from home. The kit back then knew when your phone was at home - it might get the wrong answer if you were next door, but it knew if you were further away than that. This was to better compete with land lines - and to be sure the service provider knew your home address.

    So, the additional cost to the operators of knowing your location when the phone is registered with the network is £0. There is a cost in transporting that information to the police. I am sure the current prices for that are exorbitant. I have assumed that this information has been streamed continuously to GCHQ for years. It is the sort of thing they would do, and they have no incentive to care that it is supposed to be illegal.

    If I call the police, I am happy for them to know where I am, and I would rather they did not have to pay an excessive amount to find that out. This enquiry might lead to a better deal. Decide for yourself if this means lower taxes or increased phone bills.

    The operators are required to keep records of where phones were, and the police get a court order for subsets of that database. (Some people really are stupid enough to regularly commit crimes while carrying a mobile.) The information is out there. It is being used and abused already. The only thing a new law will do is legitimise existing practice. If you want to be sure you are not being tracked, removed the phone's battery just like you cover the lens of a camera if you do not want to be photographed. (Guess why there is no off-switch for the microphone.)

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Going back a decade ...

      .. some service providers reduced the prices of mobile calls when the call was made from home. The kit back then knew when your phone was at home -

      Well, not really. If you read the small print on the contract for those deals it says something like "when the call comes via the cell tower nearest to your home", which is something they already know since they know your address. There's a big difference between triangulating a position on the fly and saying "it's from tower 348A, that's the one nearest to Fred's house"

  16. jonathanb Silver badge

    I thought they already did

    If I call 999, I want the authorities to know where I am, and anything that makes that easier is a good thing.

    I can't think of any situation where you would want to call 999 and not want them to know where you are, other than if you are making a hoax call, and that is not something that should be encouraged. There are other numbers for when people want to contact the authorities anonymously, and obviously tracking should not be used when calling them.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: I thought they already did

      As I pointed out earlier, there are easily considered examples of when you might want to dial 999/112/911 from a location remote from the incident (e.g. elderly relative goes quiet mid-sentence on the phone - I'm about 350 miles from from my mother, for instance). Dumping the information about my location as I call the emergency services to direct them to a place in Yorkshire will only confuse the issue, and lead to a false alarm for my local ambulance service (and I live so close to the ambulance station, they might well be here before I've finished the call!). There does need to be some level of control of the information sent out for operational reasons.

  17. Timmay

    Handset manufacturers already build in emergency call functionality into the software (locked screen 999/911 calling for example), so draw up a framework/method for sharing handset-supplied location information, and mandate an extension to the existing emergency call functionality which enables GPS/cell/wifi derived location sharing only at the point the emergency call is made.

    Sure, current handsets probably won't get this, but the mobile phone replacement cycle is so quick for most people, it would be quick (couple of years after being introduced) to reach a large proportion of the population. And given Ofcom and legislation moves at a glacial pace anyway, if it happened before 2020 it'd be quick enough.

  18. Wolfclaw

    Good Idea

    Once the call is made, it should be activated and when Police arrive onsite, it should be the responsibility of the Police controller to tell the phone company to deactivate and if they don't get a good kicking from ICO/OFCOM if they have the guts.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Good Idea

      And if it isn't the police you wanted? Also, with some response times, it could be a couple of days before a PCSO comes out to see what you wanted ...

  19. Robert E A Harvey

    Fine by me.

    I am perfectly happy with that idea. I also don't really care about being tracked - as someone said above I am not very important. If I was going to meet my mistress [1] or drug dealler [2] or KGB contact [3] then I would leave my phone at home and take a 'burner'.

    [1] Imaginary.

    [2] no, I don't do that either

    [3] Damn, you got me!

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Fine by me.

      Then would you mind sending me a list of all the stores you visited last week and what you bought - I'd like to sell that information to their competitors?

      If you are black I just want to make a note of anywhere you went at the same as anyone we suspect of dealing - so we can add you to the list. If you are brown we want to do the same with suspected terrorists. If you are white we will just add you to both lists - just in case.

      1. Robert E A Harvey

        Re: Fine by me.

        OK, here we go

        * Alec Days butcher - one 3Kg chicken, 300g of sausage meat, box of stuffing, 300g runner beans, 300g sprouts. Some wooden parsnips.

        * Branch Bros. 100kg limestone chippings, 100Kg builders sand, 10Kg cement

        * Bourne market - 5Kg potatoes, 10" venison pie, cabbage, watch battery, bag bananas, bag plums, 500g wet walnuts.

        * Special Import tools: Wiha 36931 ratchet

        That's it for the last 7 days. Do let me know how much you get paid.

  20. Jim Carter

    I'm going to say no.

    The civil liberties implications are too horrible to think of.

  21. MrXavia

    I already assumed they could track my mobile, did not realise it was only to the 'cell', and if I make a call to 999/112 they are the ONE person I need to know my location immediately!

    As long as the data is only gathered at the time of an emergency call then I am happy with that, or of course in the event of a court order to obtain a mobile phones location.

  22. Will 20

    Yes, they should do it. Think of your loved one, lying there after a heart attack. Not breathing. Unresponsive. You can do CPR, but you don't know where you are. Good CPR is hard work. Every second that ticks away, is a second longer you have to work. A second less your loved one has. All because you don't know where you are.

    The 999 operator tracks your phone. They give the ambulance your location. They say - don't worry help is on the way. Get on with CPR. They tell you that your nearest AED is at such location.

    It will save lives.

    If you don't want to be tracked - leave it at home. Personally, when I shout for help, I'd rather people know where I am!

  23. 080

    Can't be difficult

    This can't be as difficult as some suggest, Google (https://www.google.com/android/devicemanager) can do it for you very quickly, I use it regularly.

    And no I don't give a monkeys if GCHQ is tracking me as long as they do not target me with advertising, if I want to get up to no good then I certainly won't have a trackable device with me.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The UK public makes 36 million 999 calls a year, of which two thirds - 25 million - are absolutely NOT and emergency, but a complete and utter waste of time and money.

    I worked as a 999 operator for years (many moons ago). Todays society don't see this behaviour as shocking anymore. What ever happened to shame?

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who cares? Let them suffer and save the cash. If your stupid enough to need to call 999, then maybe we'd all be better off without you?

    1. M Gale

      You sound like one of the people I've known who look at me like I'm insulting them after getting in the car and immediately putting the seat belt on.

      I'll tell you what I tell them after they accuse me of accusing them of being a bad driver: It's not you. It's every other fucker on the road.

      Of course with an attitude like that, it's a bit of the driver as well, but I don't tell them that.

  26. Tim Brown 1
    Black Helicopters

    For the paranoid, there are Android apps that provide this sort of functionality (and much, much more ) already - for instance see http://www.androidlost.com

    Now that is for you to track your phone when it's been stolen or lost, but it's no big stretch to see an emergency services equivalent.

  27. teebie

    Risks outweigh the benefits

    By which I mean the risks of whatever law would actually be enacted (*)

    But its always good to remind people that, if its possible, its more helpful to call from a payphone or other fixed line than a mobile.

    (*) the 999 Emergency Services (oh and also retaining all gps data, but don't you worry about that) Act 2014

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Half the problem is the centralisation of call centers using operators with no local knowledge. Placenames that anyone in the area would immediatly recognise become useless because they are not an official address.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Well that's a ridiculous point you raise there.

      So, what, you want a call centre for every village, city, town? Nonsense argument there.

      Centralised call centres reduce costs and makes the pass-through time a lot quicker from the call coming in, being direct to the centre, then immediately passed to a free station.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Makes sense, saves time

    I've attended numerous 'dropped 999' calls whereby 999 has been called but has then been cut off or was silent with no details of location given.

    Depending on the exact type of drop, you may find it's a Priority 1, which means you go to it with lights and sirens, going through red lights and generally risking public safety on the bet that someone is currently being harmed. Best example is the classic 'scream and line dropped'.

    If it's a home phone, no problems, we go straight to the home address linked to that number.

    If it's a mobile though, we may be able to trace the address via previous calls from that number, or we may have the registered mobile address available, so we'll attend the home address as a first call.

    Generally speaking, they're rarely at the home address and then a massive wild goose hunt begins whilst someone is potentially being harmed.

    If we had the location of the call, we could respond suitably, safely and expeditiously and only need to go to one location, rather than blue lighting it to the home address, finding out it's not the locus, then having to chase around looking for them.

    Tinfoil hatters can go fuck yourself, the technology and data access is already there to find out exactly where a mobile phone came from, and the Police have access to that information (Although it's a bastard to get due to strict guidelines). This would simply be making that information readily available in a situation where a life could be at risk and delay could cost that life.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Makes sense, saves time

      No, you can go fuck yourself.* This is a good idea, but it should not be mandatory, nor should it be outside the choice of the person calling to give as much or as little information as they wish. Also, as I have said, you might be on your way to me when it is actually my mother 350 miles away that is the call is about.

      * You're a copper, aren't you? Other emergency services tend to actually know what "public service" means.

  30. Anders Halling

    Triangulation is good enough

    Mobile masts have one round-beam or several directional antennas pointing in different directions. Here in Norway a call to 110(fire)/112(police)/113(medical) will give the operator the mast, the sector and an estimated range based on signal strength. If it's a single antenna round beam mast you get an estimated range circle around the mast instead of a sector.

    Triangulation is trivial, but forbidden. It takes a court order to get the telco to triangulate. This is used in SAR operations where the missing persons mobile is presumed to be on them (but they are not answering or unable to explain where they are) and gives a relatively well-defined area to search. It takes a few hours to get the court order and it's therefore useless for "ordinary" emergencies, but the technology is there for fair accuracy. It's just a legal hurdle. Personally I also have an app from the Norwegian Air Ambulance Foundation that automatically starts if I dial 113 and gives me the GPS position in lat-long and MRGS.

  31. Big_Ted

    As someone who has had a heart attack

    I would be very happy with this.

    Think people how many times have you had to make a call ?

    I walk my dog in the country park near me every day and the idea that if my heart is giving me trouble that I would only have to manage to get the words heart attck out and then know help is on the way directly to me rather than having to try to explain to an operator who doesn't know the area where I am would be great. Its 180 acres in all in various fields and can be quiet for long periods.

    As long as this is only on emergency calls then fine count me in.

  32. This post has been deleted by its author

  33. Lee D Silver badge

    The only time I've ever needed to ring 999, I pulled over up the street, rung 999 and got through instantly. This was inside the M25.

    The guy on the end wanted to know where the problem was. This was exacerbated by not only the location (a street called "The Bridge"), but also that he didn't have any fancy computers to help at all. Literally, he had to look it up on a paper map. I asked if this was usual, and he said yes. Five minutes later, he had pinpointed the location I was trying to get him towards (he didn't have GPS, but I did, so lat-long was useless, I *didn't* know where I was, but my satnav did and I reeled off the surrounding roads from the map, but he was looking them up in an index of, basically, London. When he found the street he had to find the intersection I was referring to, etc.)

    By the time we'd pinpointed it, he said "Oh, they have CCTV over all that area" (couldn't work out why that mattered at all, as someone was being assaulted as we spoke).

    To give him his due, by the time I hung up the phone and got back onto the road, there were sirens in the distance and I was being rung on my phone by the actual police officer in the car that was coming towards me.

    The only other times I've needed to call the police has been to report a faulty traffic light (that put green on both ends of a roadworks and was incredibly dangerous). Again 10+ minutes of explaining where I was followed by "Oh, yeah, we know about that". Again, it was sorted by the time I passed the same point on my return journey.

    And to get help to my ex- who'd got stuck in a broken-down car, on a motorway intersection, with no help, in deep snow, and had waited 30 minutes for the RAC to arrive. I phoned up a Scottish police number from England and they had no GPS, no way to locate things and again looked up locations on a map with my terrible Cockney accent marring all their efforts to identify local roads that I couldn't pronounce (I knew where my ex was, she texted me lat-long!). Again, within MINUTES of identifying the location, the police were on scene doing more than I'd ever expect them to do (giving RAC a right royal going over, by what I overhead on the phone, and within minutes an RAC response van had suddenly decided to prioritise the lone-stranded-woman-with-baby-in-snow-covered-car) and were great. But their operations centres need a lot of help first.

    The tech is there, we're just not bloody using it. And Ofcom don't need to get involved until the police have equipment that can use that information in the first place.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Vonage?

    Quote: "...the caller's location. For fixed phones and proper VoIP (think Vonage...)"

    The Vonage modem works well anywhere it is connected to the Internet......and that connected location could be thousands of miles from the subscriber's registered address......like when the subscriber is on holiday.

  35. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Childcatcher

    The TOTC approach applied to real time population tracking.

    But what if you have to make a 999 call and you can't tell us where you are.

    Oh noesss.

    Bo**ocks.

    Operators where trialling triangulation software in base stations > 10 years ago to do this. It was pretty good and as cell coverage got better so did it's resolution.

    An escaped kidnap victim in the Scottish highlands with 1 cell tower in range and a dumb phone is a cheap thriller plot (BTW I think it's called "A Lonely Place to Die" ) IRL this is BS.

  36. AndrueC Silver badge

    My Galaxy S3 seems to know where I am to within a few metres all the time. At least when I fire up my navigator software there's never any delay while it works out the starting point. And no, I don't normally have my GPS active.

  37. phil dude
    Black Helicopters

    in the USA...

    In the US they already have this, it is called E911... All phones have had it for a long while....

    And it works for VOIP too, although it does seem a bit voluntary rather than tech info.

    Of course, whether that information is used for other things....

    P.

  38. Jim Birch

    There's a difference between tracking and having a location that is available on request when required and tracking. Phone companies record this information for their internal management, eg, provision and levelling of resources. Police can request it and it is commonly used in criminal investigations, but on request. Interesting that USA is mandating an accurate level of information be available, smells like the NSA.

    What we are talking about here is an automated request on every 999/000/911/etc call. The accuracy is not perfect but it's good enough to send a cop to find the person visually who calls in "I seem to be inside a dumpster" rather than having to peek in every dumpster in the city. There goes another standard movie plot device...

  39. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Wow...

    E911 (Enhanced 911... so-called because we dial 911 here, not 999 for emergency services...) has been implemented in the States since 2005 (and usually carriers got read a year or so before the mandate.) Older systems were using triangulation, accurate to about 300 meters worst-case, whereas most now use A-GPS which states 50-150 meters but generally is close to the 50 meter end of that, or better if outdoors.

    The old method, TDOA (time difference of arrival), would time the arrival time to various cell sites, basic triangulation. Multipath, terrain, and obstructions make this a little tricky. A few carriers used this who had too many phones shipped with no GPS support whatsoever, since they required 95% compliance by 2005. I think all in the US now use A-GPS (assisted GPS).

    When a GPS chip normally starts, it must kind of "randomly" look for a GPS satellite, then once it gets one satellite tuned in, get ephermeris (orbital) data and exact time, which it then uses to tune in enough more satellites to get a location (which is ultimately obtained via time delay measurements.) A-GPS sends exact time and ephermeris over the phone network, eliminating about 45 seconds of startup delay, and sends a location back to the network. There is apparently an option to send raw GPS data instead of a location, for cases where a GPS chip was just retrofitted to a phone that otherwise is not GPS-capable (i.e. no processing power or software to turn the raw GPS data into a location.)

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