The European Court of Justice (ECJ) specifies the obligations to determine the location of emergency calls. Unfortunately, the background to the decision was a tragic event. A young woman died although she made several emergency calls from a trunk. The control centre was unable to determine the woman’s location.
EuGH , judgement of 05.09.2019 – C-417/18
The Universal Service Directive requires Member States to take measures to determine the location of emergency calls. Telecommunications operators will be required to provide caller location information to control centres free of charge for emergency calls to 112. According to the new ruling of the ECJ, this applies even if the mobile phone does not have a SIM card.
A 17-year-old woman was kidnapped in Lithuania. The kidnappers locked her in a trunk. The woman tried to call 112 over a dozen times. However, the Lithuanian emergency call centre, which received the emergency call, was unable to determine the location. The mobile phone number was not displayed.
The surviving dependants filed a claim for compensation for the non-material damage suffered. Lithuania had not correctly transposed the Universal Service Directive*, in this specific case Article 26(3) of the Universal Service Directive. If that had been the case, the emergency call centre could have determined the location.
Lithuania with its 2,794,000 inhabitants (January 2019) belongs to the European Union. Lithuania borders Poland, Latvia and Belarus. The capital is Vilnius. It has been a member of the European Union since 2004. The Universal Service Directive applies in all European member states.
Article 26 Single European emergency number
1. Member States shall ensure that all end-users of publicly available telephone services, including users of public pay telephones, are able to make free emergency calls using the single European emergency call number 112 in addition to any other national emergency call numbers specified by national regulatory authorities.
2. Member States shall ensure that emergency calls made to the single European emergency call number 112 are adequately answered and handled in a manner best suited to the national emergency services organisation and to the technical capabilities of the networks.
3. Member States shall ensure that undertakings operating public telephone networks provide caller location information to the emergency services for all calls made to the single European emergency call number 112 where technically possible.
4. Member States shall ensure that citizens are adequately informed of the existence and use of the single European emergency number 112.
However, it was unclear whether the transmission of location data was necessary even in the absence of a SIM card and what criteria existed for the accuracy and reliability of caller location information. The competent Lithuanian Administrative Court (Vilniaus apygardos administracinis teismas) therefore referred these questions to the Court of Justice for an interpretation of the European Directive.
Decision of the ECJ
In its ruling, the European Court of Justice confirmed that all calls – including calls without SIM cards – must be accompanied by information on the location. Member States are not limited to establishing a specific legal framework. Rather, there is an obligation to succeed: the location must therefore actually be transmitted.
The technical feasibility criteria must always ensure that the location of the caller can be determined so reliably and accurately that the emergency services can provide effective assistance. The information provided must enable the caller’s location to be determined effectively.
Damages in the event of incorrect implementation
In the opinion of the ECJ, an indirect causal link between a breach of law by the national authorities and the damage suffered is sufficient for liability. In this respect, the State is liable for an infringement of Union law attributable to it. The conditions laid down in national tort law may not be less favourable than in similar actions concerning national law (principle of equivalence). In this respect, the ECJ refers to its judgment of 4 October 2018, Kantarev, C-571/16, EU:C:2018:807, para. 123 and the case-law cited therein.
Emergency calls in Germany
In Germany, emergency calls are regulated in § 108 of the Telecommunications Act (TKG). It also contains requirements for determining the location.
The Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy has subsequently adopted further regulations on the performance characteristics of emergency call connections and the principles of defining catchment areas for emergency call answering points in the Ordinance on Emergency Call Connections (NotrufV).
The Federal Network Agency is responsible for the technical guidelines. It has defined the technical details for establishing emergency call connections to the locally responsible emergency call answering point in the Technical Guideline on Emergency Call Connections Issue 2.0 (TR Notruf 2.0), including emergency calls via IP-based services.
Taking into account the findings on compensation for damages, the Länder must, in my opinion, also ensure in the reverse conclusion that the location data transmitted can also be used in the control centres.
However, callers should not rely on reliable location. Especially in sparsely populated regions, the location determination may not be sufficient for a quick rescue. Various apps and services offer support. So far, however, there is still a lack of uniform, cross-national concepts or company-independent standards for locating casualties (see also article at rettungsdienst.de).
Data protection is often (erroneously) put forward as an obstacle. From a legal point of view, there are no concerns with regard to data protection if it is implemented correctly.
Photo: © PantherMedia photo agency / BrianAJackson