A Swedish City is Finally Implementing GPS Tracking to Save Lives. Is this the way of the future?


SAVE OUR SOULS. ETHICAL TRACKING? Upon reading the latest news from the city of Uppsala in Sweden, it became clear that the debate about geolocation and geotracking being used for ethical purposes would arise again. Save Our Souls – the famous Morse code distress signal has come a long way and with mobile phones, 3G, 4G and all the technological updates, we have now reached the next stage of saving lives in need. It comes in the form of a new technology that has been given the green light in the medium-sized Swedish city. But the dilemma is ever-present as it takes its first steps. Last week we wrote about the interesting MARQ collection from Garmin with GPS being used in creative ways to fit the different styles – staying on the topic of GPS, this is precisely what is in focus this week yet again . . .

In short: by obtaining the GPS data of mobile phones, emergency services can reach the distressed parties faster. Regardless of the usual three-digit-emergency-number in the country that you are located in, for the emergency caller, a quick and correct positioning can be the difference between life and death. If the person seeking help cannot specify where he or she is, the alarm operator can trace the person’s mobile phone to send out help. But the problems in such cases has been the legislation and accuracy of tracking the location deeming it not worthwhile until such a level could be reached. Good news: both the technology AND legislation has become available and Uppsala is ready to test it. The technology bears the name SOS Alarm and the legislation is projected to be complete in the summer. 

– We have long wanted a better accuracy for positioning. If, for example, a person in distress would faint in a 112 call, we need to be able to locate the person to send the necessary resources, says Björn Skoglund, who is a service developer at SOS Alarm.


How does it work? By using GPS data from the caller’s mobile phones, SOS Alarm can track the position with a precision of 5-15 meters. The technology was developed in the UK by British Telecom, EE Limited and HTC and goes by the name of Advanced Mobile Location (AML) and consists of a software in the mobile that detects when the searcher calls the emergency number 112 (which is the emergency number in Sweden). Data is then sent to the alarm operator with an exact GPS position from the mobile’s location services and nearby WiFi networks. If the location service function is not switched on in the mobile, it is switched on automatically. . .


SOS Alarm has been gathering experience and working for a long time to make use of the technology, which has long been practically feasible and is already applied in several other EU countries such as Austria, Estonia, Belgium, Finland, Iceland and others. However in Sweden the situation has been quite different as Swedish legislation has not allowed an implementation of AML. The National Post and Telecom Agency considers that the use is not compatible with the Electronic Communications Act (LEK), and believes that personal approval is needed to get a positioning. This is precisely where the dilemma arises: do you need an approval to save someone’s life? Well, Sweden has seemed to think so up until now.

Some significant steps happened in recent years when in 2017, it saw the introduction of an SMS solution where the alarm operator was able to send out a web link to the caller through which the operator could approve that the position data was sent to the alarm center. Bureaucracy? Kind of. However, the method required that the person had location services switched on on his mobile phone.


According to Björn Skoglund [Source: Uppsala Nya Tidning] this has reached varying levels of success and was deemed somewhat problematic in some instances.

– It has worked in some situations and is better than nothing. But trying by phone to instruct a distressed and perhaps panicked person how to activate site services on the phone, that is not possible, says Björn Skoglund. He further explains that under certain circumstances it may be impossible for the caller to click on the link.

Today, the situation is much different as SOS Alarm gets an approximate position via the mobile operator when calling 112. The special “concentration area” includes an average of three square kilometers. Out in the countryside, however, distances can be considerably larger than that. Last October, SOS Alarm’s Board of Directors decided to proceed with the implementation of AML – despite the uncertain legal situation. However, a clearer legislation on the issue has already been decided at EU level, which means that Sweden will have to relate to the recent club directive no later than 2020. At the moment, a dialogue with mobile operators in Sweden is being made regarding additions in their general terms and privacy policy to be able to meet the Post and Telecom Agency’s requirement for personal approval of positioning. The hope is to be able to start using the technology already in the summer.

This is a question that is up to the nation to decide – but whether your GPS location infringes on your privacy if you’re in a dire situation seems … extreme. In any case, Sweden is far too late in this regard and should avoid the red threads that come with bureaucracy to be able to save more lives. But what we are perplexed about is the number of other countries that have not even begun this discussion. How much do we REALLY value our privacy? Enough to let those critical seconds elapse?

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