Editorial to Asbury Park Press Concerning Encryption

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KC2GVX

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I took it upon myself to write a letter to the editor of the local paper here in NJ, the Asbury Park Press about how too many PD's are encrypting everything. I cut and paste the actual letter I sent, and I hope it gets published soon. It was send right before I posted this thread. If anyone gets time, please check the opinion section of www.app.com or the paper itself to let me know when, and if, it gets there. I work a lot, and might not catch it.


What happens when citizens can no longer listen to the people who are supposed to be protecting them? This question comes up often, and when people cannot monitor the police who serve them, it seems as the cops have something to hide. In recent years, many police departments have updated outdated communications equipment with new digital radios. This push is in their best interest, and is recommended by the FCC to fit more users into a crowded radio spectrum. While every police officer deserves the best equipment to do their job safely, it seems some departments need to hide all their activity. With the new digital radio systems common to this area, each department has the choice to encrypt, (which means to scramble or hide) communications so nobody but the department can hear, or leave the communications in the clear. This can be done on a per channel basis, and need not apply to entire systems. Dover Township, Point Pleasant Beach, and Jackson have made the choice to encrypt every single communication, which leaves people with scanners, news members, and other volunteers unable to listen in. While the few people with $400 to spend on a new digital scanner are honest, the criminal element is still out there, and I assume these police departments are out to keep criminals out of their earshot. However, you can check statistics of towns with lower crime rates and who use older unencrypted radios than these towns, like Brick Township, and see scanners are not the threat police think they are. This is where encryption of sensitive information comes in, and departments have the opportunity to block out listeners on special sensitive channels. In fact, in an Asbury Park Press article from March of 2002, Chief Mastronardy of the Dover Township Police told the press how the new system was perfect, and he had plans to only encrypt, or hide, sensitive channels from the public. He did so, and routine traffic on channel one was clear until about July of this year. Just channel two, and other surveillance channels were blocked from the public with scanners, and rightfully so. Now Dover Township encrypts the paid medical units and even the dogcatchers. Other police departments, like Los Angeles, Atlantic City, all of Burlington County, Manchester Township, and Little Egg Harbor have their digital radio systems, but only encrypt sensitive information or stuff the public does not have business knowing. I would be willing to bet Dover does not have half the crime the first three cities have, and they leave dispatch in the clear. This seems a fair approach, since the tax paying public pays into the salaries of the police, and for most of these new radio systems. Honest citizens with scanners can help more than hinder police operations. If a stolen car or wanted person description is given out, someone listening might see the car or criminal sooner than a police unit can arrive. If a dispatch to a medical condition is given out, the neighbor a few houses away might know CPR and can get there sooner than a medical unit does. Police deserve the best tools our taxes can buy to protect us, but when they hide everything they do, it seems they have something to hide. These towns should consider leaving routine dispatch channels open for people into the hobby, and only hide the important stuff.

Dave Lansing, KC2GVX

Toms River (NJ)
 

car2back

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Oh boy, another "let's whine about encryption" thread

Police don't encrypt their radio traffic because they have something to hide. They do it to protect officers out there fighting crime and putting themselves in harms way while you're setting at home listening to you scanner. If encryption saves just one officer's life, or prevents just one crime, it was well worth it not being able to hear something cool go down. I want law enforcement personnel to have every tool at their disposal on the market today designed to keep them safe.

In closing, emergency radio traffic is not broadcast for the public's entertainment, nor do we have a right to listen to it. It sucks, but it's the truth. You have a very well written article, and there are a lot of cons to encryption, but the pros out weigh them IMHO.
 
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JoeyC

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Thank you Phil!

KC2GVX said:
Honest citizens with scanners can help more than hinder police operations.
This is the LAST thing police want. Interference from the scanner-listening public. While many scanner listeners feel this is the main reason for not encrypting, the police see it as a prime reason TO encrypt.
 

brandon

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Well written. I also agree it's stupid and a waste of money to encrypt dispatch channels. I support encryption used on inquiry, narcotics and SWAT but dispatch??? Come on! We went many years without PD's being encrypted.... why start now? What really gets me are these little towns that feel they need to encrypt everything. I see it with Mesquite, NV, Indio, CA, and Santa Maria, CA. Even some fire departments are encrypting radio traffic....Motorola must have some good salesmen.
 

GM

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The answer is simple: if a agency feels the need to encrypt, let them, and then I will feel the need to no longer provide a free set of eyes & ears for them (which costs the taxpayers $0)! That's fine with me, since I have another radio on in the car to listen to, it's called XM. I only assist agencies who keep dispatch in the clear, open mode. And yes, there have been several times that I provided critical info. to the police dept. not otherwise available at the moment to them. The letter to the editor is very well written and 100% to the point. My case is rested.
 

DJ88

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They don't want us listening to them, but when they have a crime that they are having difficulty solving, they cry out for the public's help. All of a sudden we're their best friends and they want us to get involved.
 

KC2GVX

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Thanks for all the kind words. I got a reply today asking for my phone number and residence, for verification. It looks like it might get printed, pending some edits if necessary. I am sure it wont change these departments policies, but maybe it will make some people think about what is being hidden here.
 

SAR923

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This is not simply an issue for those who listen to scanners for recreation. Allied agencies that may be able to assist in an emergent situations will have no idea what's happening until the dispatcher from the agency using encryption calls us and lets us know what's happening. I have no problem with encrypting channels that are used for UC work but leaving main dispatch channels unencrypted ensures that the agency gets that quickest assistance from other agencies that use scanners to monitor what's happening in the area.
 

mciupa

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Not everyone is receptive to members of the public knowing about police operations.

In this day and age of heightened security , some will feel that protected communications is a smart move.

Yes , people will think about it for a moment while they read your letter , then they'll turn the page and read something else that will have a more personal impact and the encryption issue will be forgotten. There is no going back. Once that door shuts, it's locked.
:(
 

43g70

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You as a taxpayer pay for the cop car or fire truck. You can not drive them or know what goes on inside unless you are on the "free" ride from the cops.

How does this equate to radio well, that is a tool just like the radio system is a tool for the employee of the entity that wants to encrypt. So they can choose to do with it as they please.

Also this is hobby, relax find something else to listen to. Like farmers, other businesses they are just as entertaining.

43g70
 

bockscar

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I can't help but wonder when the paradigm shift of more secrecy == more security/safety began. There is a sliding scale of openness versus security. You want total security, fine. All govt. comms are locked down and all your are openned up with the requisite curfews and activity oversight (want to go to ze Walmat? Ver are your papers?). Of course, total openness doesn't work either, for obvious reasons. I doubt that locking down all comms will save one officer's life anymore than taking away teflon coated ammunition. Bad guys are bad guys and they will pick away at their targets of opporunity until they finally get a few licks in. Always been that way and always will be that way, regardless of technology. The best we can do, IMO, is work to maintain a civil society where people aren't afraid or discouraged from getting involved and keep the government and civil services (that work for us) as open as practical so that we me readily keep tabs on the ongoing activities. Sure, keep a secure channel for situational needs. But the rest, leave open. Knowing what's going on isn't necessarily for entertainment.
 

w4rez

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Very well written. The airwaves are the only way we have where we can "rubberneck" without getting in the way of law enforcement and public safety. I too feel that an agency must have something to hide if they choose to encrypt everything. If we can't hear what's going on on the radio, then the only way we know that our friendly public safety officers are doing their jobs is to trust what's being reported at the county commission and city council meetings, and we all know how honest politicians and PR people are.

This reeks of an agency that doesn't want the public to hear firsthand when they botch up a chase or a manhunt or all the "I'll be 10-6 at Krispy Kreme" traffic.
 
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Good job.

Encryption of public safety communications is just one more symptom of the militarization of the police. The corrosive effect of the “us” vs. “them” mentality. From police referring to the citizenry as “civilians”, the whole “tactical” craze with the police dressing like soldiers and acting like soldiers (or worse in masks like common bandits), to departments acquiring tanks and military equipment through DHS grants to the rampant overuse of SWAT teams with deadly results to innocent people. Should we really be surprised they want to keep their “ops” hidden from the “enemy”?

The old arguments about saving lives or preventing crimes via encryption are bunk. It's about secrecy. It's about hiding from public scrutiny. It's about protecting “comms” from the “enemy” which unfortunately given the current mindset coming out of LE is the general populace. It's corrosive and it's wrong.
 

kd7rto

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phil_smith said:
nor do we have a right to listen to it.
The airwaves are not government property. They belong to the people, and are administrated by the government. Being part-owners of the spectrum should give us the right to monitor.
 

car2back

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n6orz said:
The airwaves are not government property. They belong to the people, and are administrated by the government. Being part-owners of the spectrum should give us the right to monitor.
What I ment was you do not have a right to listen to any agency's radio traffic; nor do they have to take scanner enthusiasts into consideration when choosing a communicatios system.
 

w4rez

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phil_smith said:
What I ment was you do not have a right to listen to any agency's radio traffic; nor do they have to take scanner enthusiasts into consideration when choosing a communicatios system.
This is true, but they should take public opinion and perception into consideration when choosing a comm system. Are you forgetting that we're the ones that pay for it?

A public safety agency that's worth it's salt would realize that an unencrypted, well run comm system is not only a comm system, but an excellent PR tool and a way to gain public support, especially if said system depends on levy bonds that need to be renewed at election time.

Furthermore, it gets the public involved. While I disagree with outright vigilantism, there's been many, many occasions where I have kept my eyes peeled for a person/vehicle after hearing a BOLO in my area. In fact, within the past hour there was a call where there was a possible B&E down the street from where I live. Caller advised that they'd observed an individual exit a residence and appear to be wiping fingerprints off the doorknob. This individual fled after being spotted by the caller. Dispatch gave the responding officer a description of the alleged perp, and while I never saw him, I definitely kept an eye out for him and I wouldn't have hesitated to call 911 if I'd seen him. I wouldn't have been able to do this or would've even been aware that a B&E had been committed in my neighborhood had the local crooks^H^H^H^Hpoliticians decided to encrypt dispatch comms in this town.
 

Yokoshibu

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JoeyC said:
Thank you Phil!

This is the LAST thing police want. Interference from the scanner-listening public. While many scanner listeners feel this is the main reason for not encrypting, the police see it as a prime reason TO encrypt.
huh.. a year ago I lived in an apartment complex that was gated and the ambulance showed up and couldnt get in....

they drove from one gate to the other and fortunantly I was scanning that night and heard them having difficulties so by the time they made it to the other gate I was already there and had the gate open for them....

It was my option to "interfere" and in my eyes sitting there listening and doing nothing is just as good as letting the guy die.... If thats all I had to do to save a life I would open the gate for an ambulance every time.
 
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