ohn Eberly wasn’t looking for controversy. The 31-year-old Ballard resident just wanted a better way to track the whereabouts of fire trucks and emergency vehicles in the city, a service he said could help people avoid traffic bottlenecks, protests or dangerous situations such as gas leaks.
For the past year, Eberly has operated Seattle911.com, a Web site that until this week took real-time feeds of 911 calls from the Seattle Fire Department and plotted them on Google Maps. The site developed a cult following, with up to 200 unique visitors per day. The Seattle P-I incorporated the service into its Web site.
Schneier, the security expert, says the Seattle Fire Department’s decision raises an interesting social question about the use of public information. He said it is the same issue as posting political donations or property records on Web sites.
“What the Fire Department is saying, which is interesting if you think about it, is that we are going to rely on the inconvenience of automating this to give you privacy,” Schneier said. “The government is not saying, ‘Hey, this data needs to be secret,’ they are saying, ‘This data needs to be inconvenient to get to.’ “