Next-Generation 911 and Data: Transparency, Privacy, and Evidentiary Considerations

(by Connor Boe, TLPC alum)

Data collection, analysis, and storage is cheaper and more reliable than ever before. This advancement in technology is constantly improving public services specifically in services dedicated to emergency response. The adoption of new technologies to increase the amount and diversity of information that public safety entities have access to during an emergency response is called Next Generation 911 (NG911). In a NG911 world, the proliferation of data when responding to emergencies will inevitably increase in size and scope. Though the receipt, processing, analysis, and storage of more data in emergency responses will be beneficial for public safety, it may also create complexities for existing statutory and regulatory obligations these entities have. Specifically, these systems have the potential to complicate state open records law compliance, privacy and data protection obligations, and chain-of-custody rules of evidence. Policy makers, emergency services, and vendors of these services need to consider the legal implications before deploying NG911 systems and not after the fact.

The benefits and drawbacks when choosing to adopt NG911 systems are far reaching. The architecture choices local governments make have the potential to rewrite the public safety answering points relationship with the general public and public safety entities. Advocates and practitioners need to understand that after data is collected by the government in response to an emergency, the information that they collect will be highly scrutinized by the communities in which they serve. These NG911 data management systems need to strike a balance between public safety, personal privacy, the rule of law, and government transparency that is acceptable to all the stakeholders in the community.

Working with several 911 stakeholders, the TLPC drafted and is pleased to release the attached white paper, which discusses attempts to discuss how the architecture of NG911 systems will impact existing legal obligations and discuss the opportunities that local governments will have when adopting these systems.