The Future of 9-1-1

Heck, the IRS did it.

Posted by sip911 on July 28, 2008

Don't be scared of the internet

We should not be scared of the internet

Update 1 is below

When I hear about the challenges of moving 9-1-1 into the future, privacy and security are at the forefront. My question is this: are the unique demands of securing 9-1-1 information so different than our other personal information, like our financial information? Should we apply a higher, more stringent standard for safeguarding customer location information? Why?

I paid my taxes on line this year. Every single step, from submission of my W-2s, to my deductions, to my signature was entirely electronic. I was able to link to my records and even submit my payments to the IRS. Financial information used to be so private and the internet so scary that many thought we’d never get to the point where we’d make such a transaction on line. In addition, the IRS is regularly knocked as an unchanging behemoth that moves too slow.

We trust the internet more than ever before. We do our banking online. We can buy just about anything online. We post our families pictures, videos, blogs, and other personal information out there in record numbers.

Ok, sure, in this age of electronic commerce we do face more risk of identity theft. It’s a problem. But is it one that should limit us in providing the highest level of emergency services? One study from the FTC reports that 3.7% of the population surveyed, equivalent to 8.3 million people experienced identity theft in 2006. That compares to measures of 4.7% in 2003. However, the 2006 study emphasizes that the difference is not statistically significant and surveying methods could explain the decrease. In any case, it is accurate to say that identity theft did not increase from 2003 to 2006. We’ve become more aware of it and more protective of our information. In addition, suppliers of services have put in place more tools to safeguard our information.

More interestingly, a recent story in the Washington Post tells of a study by the Better Business Bureau and Javelin Strategy and Research, a consulting firm for the financial services industry shows that the internet is not where most of the theft is occurring!

…most of the compromised data is not taken through the Internet. In fact, the traditional offline channels, such as lost or stolen wallets, checkbooks or credit cards, continue to be the primary source of ID theft. What’s more, almost half of all identity theft is perpetrated by someone the victim knows: friends, neighbors, family members, in-home employees, etc. And with nearly 70 percent of consumers shredding documents, trash also is not a great source of compromised data, the survey says.

Are Americans willing to give up the conveniences of the web because of this increase in identity crimes? It does not seem so. In fact, we are sharing more. Based on the continued increase every day in on line usage and recent trends to share more about themselves, it sure seems like we are not afraid. Hundreds of millions of users (at least 350M+ according to Morgan Stanley) publish more and more about themselves in places like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIN, etc. That doesn’t even touch the millions that blog. The internet empowers us to make connections and share information in ways never imagined before.

My challenge to the trendsetters in the 9-1-1 community is to challenge positions or policies that the internet has no place in the future of 9-1-1. It sure seems that we are at a place where it can’t be dismissed out of fear or history. There are tremendous technological and economic benefits to embracing the advances of the web from cutting-edge software development to rapidly-advancing security options. In addition, the web provides unlimited tools to help make critical information available to call takers when they need it and offers callers a way to make their personal information available to responders.

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UPDATE 1

Just to clarify, current thinking in 9-1-1 is that we utilize an Emergency Services Network, or ESINet, to keep traffic and information secure.   I’m not necessarily advocating going away from this concept to use the Internet instead.  It does make sense, though, to consider what level of engineering and security is required for the ESINet given the relative success some have had in using the internet for secure, private transactions.  And, if you want to make the leap to discuss using the internet for 9-1-1, that would make a real interesting discussion.

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