The Civil Liability of Public Safety

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Public safety is a vital obligation undertaken by the relevant government agencies while strictly observing the law. One is required to ensure that no unnecessary interferences are made to the public communication system that might cause insecurity or harm to the citizens. It is the role of the bodies and organizations concerned to take a closer look at the risks involved in the telecommunication industry. This paper focuses on the civil liability of public safety concerning telecommunication.

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Public safety telecommunications is a course that involves incorporating the information technology standards, interoperability guidelines, and profiles into the criminal justice system for the safety of the public at the State, local, and federal levels. The efficiency of this course requires the application of enabling technologies with open architectural standards that aim at designing the most appropriate interoperability approaches. In addition, there is also a need for the verification and validation of the techniques and standard configuration that have been proposed (USA (COR) International Business Publications, 2008, p. 23).

The United States has several public safety telecommunication agencies, which are aimed at serving the public. They are grouped into specific categories that include the first responders of the nation such as the police officers, ambulance services, and the firefighters. All the other agencies fall within the jurisdictions of the State, federal and local authorities. These agencies often use telecommunication devices such as wireless radios to effectively communicate safety issues within their members and to the public. The use of wireless technology is influenced by the availability of radio frequency capacity to operate (Moore, 2011, p. 67).

However, wireless technology has various limitations that are mostly based on its operating ranges. It is worth noting that the wireless frequency is mostly designed to operate within particular technology ranges. The agencies that are involved in fast response often encounter several challenges while carrying out their tasks. For instance, different states and jurisdictions have different rules and standards of operations and applications of radio frequencies and ranges. These challenges pose a myriad of challenges to the agencies in their bid to communicate effectively. It is against this backdrop that the need for interoperability comes to play.

This is the capability of the various agencies and systems to interact with each other effectively. The facilitation of interoperability has been a legal issue within the public safety fraternity and is consequently laced with liability challenges (CRS Report for Congress, 2005, p. 4). The legal conduct, limitations, and boundaries of the operations in these agencies are governed by specific rules and regulations, which incidentally change from one state to the other (CRS Report for Congress, 2005, p. 9).

The United States legislation provides guidelines on public safety about emergencies. According to the Congressional Record, Senate (2008), Section 261 is an amendment that contains a set of protection laws that require the public to be granted safety against any emergency (p. 43).

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In particular, the telecommunication section was amended to provide fast and efficient services to the public. This was achieved by deliberately removing the particular sections that used the wireless carrier, which was subsequently replaced with the wireless carrier IP. The wireless carrier IP uses the enabled service provider. These amendments that were done to the section of public safety, were meant to provide quality services to both the agencies and the civilians. The efficiency and reliability of the public service are tantamount to the delivery of the best quality services. Therefore, for the public safety agencies to restore confidence to the public, they need to strive for the highest standards of reliability and efficiency (Congressional Record, Senate, 2008, p. 43).

To ensure the reliability and effectiveness of the services, several adjustments were made to the constitution to warrant the protection of citizens against the danger of any kind. In this regard, the wireless services were replaced with voice-enabled emergence calls with identification of voice and place of calling. That explains the reason why the 9-1-1 service for the protection of American citizens records and identifies the location of the emergency. The telecommunication services used to amount to the latest technology in this industry for efficiency and safety of the public. This is in fact, the latest module in telecommunication technology and it serves the relevant agencies with the needed information on voice identification and the location of distressed calls (Federal Communications Commission, 2011, p. 1).

The past few decades have seen an upsurge in the number of cases involving telecommunication issues in the United States. Several reasons can be attributed to this. One of them is the failures encountered in reaching the scene of a crime in time. The failures are brought about by the congestion in the cell lines. The law enforcement agencies sometimes experience serious jamming of calls that they are unable to handle. The law enforcement agencies have adopted a policy of relaxation when such services are needed most, even though there are claims that some alarms are false. According to some technocrats, some excited civilians sometimes find pleasure in making false alarms to the security agencies. This notwithstanding, this kind of negligence on the part of law enforcement agencies has led to a severe loss of life and property.

Strict liability crimes involving telecommunication have been reported to be on the rise. A particular case is one that involved a man who was reported to have used an unlicensed radio station, which was broadcasting demonstrating tapes. The defendant acknowledged having access and use of the radio and knew that he was recording demonstration tapes but denied the fact that he was broadcasting them. According to the defendant, he was not aware of any live transmission taking place. Therefore, the defendant was convicted of using a public telecommunication system with a liability of causing harm to the public. According to Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949, it is a requirement that no unauthorized personnel should access and use public property (Federal Communications Commission, 2011, p. 1).

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Court Case Examples

The Court of Appeal indicated that such a case that involves telecommunication was a strict liability case, which required imprisonment. It is a case that interfered with public safety. Therefore, according to Lord Scarman’s Principle, the offense committed carried serious dangers associated with public safety and national interests. The outcome of this court case led to greater vigilance on all public utilities used for the transmission of information. It was a sign of punishment for such offenses in the future. The law requires that a person involved in such strict liability crime be convicted and imprisoned for a full term service (USA (COR) International Business Publications, 2008, p. 98).

In this case, the court took it upon itself to make the defendant aware that he had committed a crime and to prove to him that the offense committed was punishable by law. It was argued that he could have known the impact the broadcast of these tapes could have caused. Most definitely, the law of the country was violated and the defendant had to face its full force. Based on the fact that telecommunication is a public safety liability, adequate handling must be accorded to it. This does not entail leaving it to the mercy of the offenders (Congressional Record, Senate, 2008, p. 11).

Concerning the law about public safety, it is required that all people of all races and ethnicity, irrespective of their status, be granted safety. In the year 2011, new privacy policies of electronic communications were put in place to enhance the effectiveness of the law enforcers. It regulated that any person who is authorized to data controller must communicate to the information commissioner immediately on discovery of any breach of data. It is also advisable that the customers who are directly or indirectly affected by such a breach be informed immediately. It is in this respect that interception of communication especially that involving public safety should be treated as a strict liability crime (Moore, 2011, p. 76).

The absence of credible rules and regulations has been used as a presumption in dealing with cases involving telecommunications. It is speculated that there is a lack of the regulatory approach, which makes many people and organizations vulnerable to being victims of such crimes. In addition, there has never been a formal channel of communication between the telecommunication law offenders and the agencies or authorities. A strict public safety assurance policy is therefore needed to bridge this gap. However, it is reported that the gravity of the sentence given to criminals who intercept the telecommunication sector is improbable.

The punishments seem to be too lenient and therefore they do not seem to effectively curb this vice. Consequently, several organizations including the media society, have been ganging up to recommend to the government to come in and help by enacting appropriate penalties. The success in their activism may lead to the reduction of the cases of interception. People would therefore regard telecommunication private policies with respect because of the fear of facing the full force of the law after such violations (Great Britain, 2006, p. 87).

The Telecommunication Act of 1984 has provisions that spell out the punishments that should be given to offenders. A person who has been convicted of the crime of tampering with communication systems should be given a punishment not exceeding level 3 according to the standard scale. This means that the person may serve a term not exceeding six months in prison. This condition does not seem to be enough penalty for the offense. According to some organizations in the telecommunication industry, public safety can only be granted if there is a law in place, which imposes strict and harsh penalties to the offenders of crimes related to this crime (USA (COR) International Business Publications, 2008, p. 148).

Offenses that are done in breach of the law and that are likely to cause harm to the public are referred to as tort liabilities. A tort liability requires that the person charged with unlawful conduct must have infringed a breach into a personal right or object. The tort case leaves the full responsibility to the person who has been offended, who is supposed to take charge and sue the offender. This is irrespective of the involvement of the public as the plaintiff. A tort liability however is highly unlikely to be of any relevance to cases associated with telecommunication. This is because these cases normally draw a significant level of public interest.

In the existing law, it is stipulated in the Warren-911-Emergency that any person operating the telecommunication system or public safety agency should be connected to an answerable point. This means that any person who dials the number should be directly connected to a service provider officer who attends to the call. This is made possible through normal connecting phones. In this act of Warren-911-Emergency, any service provider is liable to any damage, mistake, loss, or claim made as a result of how they conduct themselves (Great Britain, 2006, p. 100).

The bill provides that each member of the telecommunications service must bear all the responsibilities of any omission made during the line of duty. The court would intervene in this case to punish any incidence that is likely to cause the jeopardy of the cases. It is a mandate that the public be safely kept from any harm that might be caused by the unprecedented liability experienced in communication. This includes cases where the act that causes a mistake or wanton or willful misbehavior in the line of duty, is intentional (Congressional Record, Senate, 2008, p. 32).

The purpose of criminal law is to ensure that those people who commit crimes in society are apprehended according to the laws of the land. This is the same case when it comes to publication or advertisement of information, which may endanger the lives of other people. Such cases are regarded as violations of personal life and privacy in various ways and circumstances. Society requires that people co-exist to live in peace. The case of incitement of the public by the use of public resources like the radio calls, then it is considered to be a grave mistake. People of all nations and all races are required to observe strict measures that may impact good morals in their minds without disregarding the court.

The government also provides regulations that require solid data protection. All government databases are secured and access to them is guaranteed for the authorized personnel and individuals of the government. However, in the recent past, it has been found that many people access government data through hacking. This puts the safety of the country’s data and documents at great risk.

A bill was enacted to promote and improve public safety and also to encourage a greater length of deployment of the IP addresses, which are voice-enabled. This could help in improving the quality of services offered by law enforcement agencies. The main aim is to ensure that the mandate of the people involved in these works is not vulnerable to omission cases that come unintentionally. The law enforcement agencies working together with the telecommunication agencies are required to monitor the transmissions made by the public, which may suggest interception. Close monitoring and full analysis of the content or information that raises eyebrows is the only way of getting to the perpetrators.

A case where a person intentionally intercepts any form of communication, without any authority that is lawfully given, is held liable for such a crime in a court of law. It is required that such an offender be prosecuted by section 2(2) and section 2(7) of the criminal law. The prosecutor must prove that the interception was done in between the communication systems. It has to be established that the interception of telecommunication was done when the caller was connecting to the recipient and not when he has already connected. Sections 2(2) and 2(7) are read at the same time to prove the point that communication interception includes any time in-between the period the communication is ongoing (Federal Communications Commission, 2011, p. 1).

The only problem that is foreseeable in the future concerning telecommunication liability, is the fact that the media and the telecommunication industries have to come together and try to iron out the challenges facing the communication sector. The case in which the defendant trying to explain that he was not aware of the transmission going on, proves the point that the public telecommunication facilities are not safe. The insecurity surrounding the telecommunication sector must be another issue that is causing anxiety (Federal Communications Commission, 2011, p. 1).

For effective communication to be achieved, there has to be communication training of the people involved in handling the facilities. All the employees must work together for the achievement of a common goal of reducing the risks of that job. In addition, maintaining and observing a risk management program is extremely necessary for defending lawsuits that are prone to occur from time to time. These management criteria and maintenance procedures could drastically reduce the chances of hackers invading telecommunication devices to access private information. The law enforcers normally defend themselves by demonstrating that they are not immune to such liability as their actions are in good faith.

Qualified immunity, which is not mostly attained by officers of the law enforcement agency, can protect them from the risks involved. No grounds exist for establishing a lawsuit that does not have evidence of the content. The people who are not the masterminds of such cases can defend themselves effectively against any misconduct. The law does not guarantee that society can sue those in authority in the line of duty for offenses of omission. A further requirement for establishing criminal justice over cases of interception is the invasion of the privacy of the alleged interceptors. The reasoning is that the only people who can effectively defend themselves are the law enforcers.


Public safety telecommunications is a vital tool that not only ensures the safety of the members of the public but also safeguards and gives direction on the required modes of conduct with regards to telecommunication issues. Different agencies that have been tasked with offering these essential services, including safeguarding the public have had to contend with several challenging issues. Of utmost importance, however, is the fact that the citizens should be made aware of their rights and limits concerning their safety wherever they are. They must also make aware of the importance of public safety telecommunications and the role this industry plays in enhancing public safety.

The safety agencies on their part must take lead in ensuring that different modes of safety appliances are merged for efficiency purposes. The state should also provide the public safety telecommunications institutions with enough funds, tools, and other logistics to enhance their effectiveness and reliability.


Congressional Record, Senate. (2008). Congressional record. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

CRS Report for Congress. (2005). Public safety communications: policy, proposals, legislation and progress. Web.

Federal Communications Commission. (2011). Telecommunications act of 1996. Web.

Great Britain. (2006). Wireless telegraphy act 2006: Elizabeth II, part 36. London: The Stationery Office.

Moore, L. K. (2011). Public safety communications and spectrum resources: Policy issues for congress. Pittsburg, PA: DIANE Publishing.

USA (COR) International Business Publications. (2008). Cyprus telecom laws and regulations handbook. Washington, DC: Int’l Business Publications.

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