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Geolocation and emergency VoIP calls

Posted by malcolm on Friday, June 27th, 2008 at 15:43

Ray Bellis at Nominet offers a clear description of work underway that could lead to ISPs running location services, which would provide an accurate geographic location of the current user of an IP address at a given moment. He suggests regulation to require ISPs to provide such a service is necessary so that when VoIP telephony users call the emergency operator for a blue-light service, the operator will know the caller’s location without asking, just as currently happens on the PSTN.

In the comment’s below the article, Alex Bligh raises some relevant technical objections. However this proposal also raises some interesting policy questions:

  • If ISPs are to be required to provide such a service just so third parties can sell telephony services, shouldn’t the VoIP providers be required to reimburse the ISPs? If so, how could that be accomplished, especially considering some VoIP providers are based overseas?
  • If ISPs ran a location service, to what other uses might it be put? Could this become a new revenue stream? Might the ability to obtain accurate location information about a user be employed to enable segmentation of the Internet, in the same way other markets are geographically segmented? For example, should non-Americans be allowed to access NBC’s online coverage of the Olympics, when European broadcasters have paid for exclusive coverage in their jurisdiction?
  • In this context, what control should a user be given about their location? Should they be able to make their ISP lie about their location? Should they be able to force their ISP to refuse to disclose their location, or should the ISP be able to obtain a notional consent from the user through the Terms of Service? If so, should location services be opt-in or opt-out for the user?

However in the first instance the questions are likely to relate to protecting users seeking blue-light services. It’s entirely possible the wider ramifications will only be considered when it’s too late to do much about it.

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