An analysis of 2 primary concerns with allowing Twilio text 911 sms relay from Gotenna devices:
(I) it may not work; and,
(II) it may result in abuse.
I. To address the first concern (efficacy):
It does work, below is a Gotenna Twilio SMS relay to Text 911 prearranged with Puerto Rico 911 PSAP center:
Note, Gotenna’s app does not allow for the entry of only 3 digit phone numbers and it requires a leading country code (1). The way we were able to make this work was to input the 1, then pad the phone number entry field with zeros. (e.g. 1–000–000–0911 == 911)
In life, there are things, that may not work… however, these things can give us a fighting chance. The ONLY guarantee is that they will NOT work, 100% guaranteed, if, like Gotenna and Twilio, we don’t even try or we shy away from the challenge by forbidding any attempt with restrictive acceptable use policies.
This is a difficult technology and, at present, the implementation of text 911 is far from perfect, except in Puerto Rico where it is 100% implemented for almost 8 years now.
Gotenna offers some unique features that increase the likelihood of text 911 sms relay working. Gotenna has 1–2 miles of range per hop (even 62 miles range with elevation). Often times a user may not, themselves, be within range of a working cell tower, but a couple of miles away, another Gotenna relay may well be within range of a tower or a wifi signal. Gotenna users generally set up a permanently powered relay near their house with access to wifi.
Gotenna offers up to six hops (i.e. 6 hops x 2 miles = 12 miles or 6 hops x 10 miles = 60 miles) if any of these users within an e.g. 12–60 mile range do have signal then the message could be sms relayed via that working tower to text 911. Often times a CDMA (e.g. Sprint/Verizon) tower may be down, but a GSM tower (e.g. ATT/Tmobile/Claro) may be operational (this allows Gotenna users to spread the load out to other towers they may not ordinarily have access to) and multiplies the likelihood of getting a message out.
While voice calls can easily overwhelm the towers and the 911 PSAPS, short text messages (tagged with GPS) reduce the need for such voice calls- easing the burden on the PSAP and the towers.
So Gotenna in concert with Twilio multiplies the likelihood of effective delivery of emergency messages by:
(1) being vendor agnostic, working on ANY available tower or wifi (i.e. CDMA/GSM/Wifi);
(2) by spreading the message out geographically by e.g. tens of miles beyond the disaster situs (very helpful for localized disturbances);
(3) by reducing the need for voice calls which frees up cell tower and PSAP resources;
(4) by including a GPS position — so even if the user can’t report or is lost, 911 services can locate the survivor.
Further, Gotenna performs an initialization at each and every use based on GPS location to intelligently configure the device based on the local jurisdiction and operational laws. The FCC makes the text 911 data available in one centralized and publicly accessible psap database. It would be trivial to programmatically configure the Gotenna to try 911 sms relay or not based on this GPS location or determined operability of text 911 in the jurisdiction.
Or, we just try… if it doesn’t work, at least we tried… and a 50/50 chance is better than a hard-coded 0% chance. As time goes on, more and more PSAPs will be text 911 ready. With sufficient click-wrap license, with conspicuous warnings, we can let the user know that this might not work — but at least give them a fighting chance.
There are many places that this will work. For example, Puerto Rico- millions of people in Puerto Rico, locals, servicemembers, and first responders… ALL 78 municipalities of Puerto Rico have 100% operational text 911 service and have had it for almost a decade. Large areas of California, Nevada, Connecticut, Texas, New Hampshire, Vermont, Indiana, all have operational text 911 service. 80% of Florida will have operable 911 text service by January 1. Thousands more locations have working text 911. Many disaster-prone areas could use this technology to save lives.
We cannot deny them that fighting chance just because it’s difficult and may not work. Could we try a pilot program JUST for Puerto Rico? We are open to ANY compromise. There are millions of American lives there and hundreds of Gotenna devices already there.
II. To address the second concern (abuse):
In stark contrast to Gotenna (as outlined below), any kid can buy a burner phone for $19 at walmart or a gas station with untraceable cash or find/steal/trade a phone anywhere.
The phone doesn’t even need a subscription to service to work for swatting. As you know, 911 calls and texts must be allowed even if there’s no sim card or preexisting service. Even if the device does have a sim card, many prepaid options exist and allow pseudonymous registration. So anyone, anywhere, with a few bucks, with 100% anonymity can already abusively call or text 911. This doesn’t even address the online services accessible with TOR or other means. Any argument that allowing Gotenna to sms relay to 911 must be forbidden because of potential abuse is specious considering the relative ease of employing a burner phone or online service.
However, with Gotenna, there are trivial steps that we (or gotenna or PSAPS) could use to mitigate this risk and several unique features that inherently limit the attractiveness of abuse on this platform:
1) GotennaPlus sms relay requires purchase of $130 worth of Gotenna devices with a credit card, a name, a mailing address, and a billing address and a $9 yearly subscription where the serial number is tied to the subscriber- why spend $139 when you can steal any phone or buy one for $19?
2) Registering GoTenna plus requires a working phone number (verified with Twilio and Gotenna);
3) Gotenna’s routing protocol maintains GPS location of the originating node (AND every relay node- establishing a breadcrumb trail with up to six GPS locations) this allows for simple verification, fuzzy logic forensic location/fraud detection. This can be easily provided to the PSAP center or LEO’s in some simplified form and maintained to go after abusers or to proactively prevent abuse. In this sense, it makes Gotenna much less attractive for abuse.
4) Gotenna locations can be triangulated (in addition to the GPS trail).
5) Gotenna terms explicitly state that they can revoke access if there is abuse.
So, even though there is (1) a *significantly reduced* likelihood of abuse relative to other services, and (2) even though it guaranteed WILL work in several disaster areas like Puerto Rico, we guarantee that NO ONE can call for help because someone, somewhere, may abuse it or it might not work?
Either of these propositions by Gotenna / Twilio:
(1) We cannot try to help people because it might not work; or,
(2) We cannot try to help people because someone (however unlikely) might abuse it…
violate both the zeroth and first law (…allowing humanity to come to harm through inaction).
Bad storms, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis are coming with increasing frequency and ferocity — to do nothing is to go silently into the night.
This Gotenna device is the only device that works for people like my mother when the tower falls- it increases the likelihood of her survival exponentially. This device is what we outfitted five teams of first responders with in Puerto Rico for search and rescue and convoy missions. It works. Twilio’s SMS relay will save lives and help us save more lives.
I was over there in Mountain View, Los Altos in ’89 when the earthquake came and we lost everything. Imagine the survival advantage you give us for next time if we can use ANY remaining cell tower or wifi (not just Sprint or ATT). Meta-signal diversity. This is huge.
I’m humbly and respectfully begging, could we please have a variance, a waiver of the Twilio Acceptable Use Policy to try a pilot program sandboxed JUST for Puerto Rico or just bay area? We are open to ANY compromise. There are millions of American lives there and hundreds of Gotenna devices already there.
Let’s be heroes. Let’s lead by example. Let’s tear down walls. Let’s make the effort to do this, not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard and we don’t shy away from a challenge or saving lives when it’s possible.