Legislative season begins!

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high_order1

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near Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Hi!

I haven't posted in a long time, and only occasionally lurk any more. I have been growing concerned about the amount of permanent encryption use in my home area (Roane, Loudon), who is using it, and why.

I'm not looking for guidance, or to bounce anything off of anybody here. What I am asking is for you to take a minute and do us all a favor:

1st - email my state reps theo.vallas@capitol.tn.gov (Jimmy Matlock) and Randy McNally sen.randy.mcnally@capitol.tn.gov, and voice your support for them to introduce legislation that would mandate anything not within a small officer safety window to be transmitted in the clear.

2nd - email YOUR representatives and do the same. I will post the rambling speech I gave them in a minute (the emails are flying as we speak.)

Now is not the time to be passive about this. A right unexercised is one step from being removed.

Thanks for listening!

Shawn
 

high_order1

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Joined
Dec 24, 2001
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Location
near Oak Ridge, Tennessee
(This is labelled third, because I also asked them to decriminalize the possession and use of flashing yellow lights, and to force retailers to stop saying things are unlimited if they aren't)

Three: Scrambling radio channels
It seems like encryption (scrambling) police channels is a no-brainer. It is obvious that radio systems provide real-time access to what law enforcement is doing, and that could be used to the advantage of the criminal.


The truth is that very little around here going over the airwaves are of interest to those that would do evil; but they are of extreme interest to citizens interested in knowing what is occurring in their community and those who want to maintain accountability of those that govern them.

It has been possible to monitor police radio communications in East Tennessee from the time police first utilized the airwaves til today. Statistically, the number of hours ‘scanner calls’ have been available vice the number of local criminals with scanners has been exceptionally low.
On the other hand, the availability of unfiltered information via a scanner to the number of tips, the ability of citizens to be proactive in crime suppression, and the ability of the media to discharge their duties has remained very high.

Until now.

One of the many features of the Tennessee Valley Telecommunications Radio System that Loudon and Roane County have migrated to is the ability to encrypt (scramble) transmissions. This prevents anyone lacking the correct equipment and ‘key’ to be able to monitor communications.

This feature is not just available to those in law enforcement. All users; the road department, water department… they all can obscure their communications with the flick of a switch.

What does it matter, you may say? No one can listen to this new system anyway.

You would be wrong. Just as your car stereo went from analog to (digital) satellite, your television went from analog to digital, so have the radios used by firemen, policemen and ambulance workers. Scanners that can listen to digital signals are available now, and have been since the decision makers were nailing down the standards. Digital is NOT scrambling. It is simply a new way to transmit.

And, here’s why it matters:

Listening to governmental radio communications is a fundamental cornerstone of transparency. Certainly, there are other mediums, such as twitter, facebook, texts, and websites for the dissemination of noteworthy events. But the term ‘noteworthy’ is the key here – who decides what is noteworthy?tIt is a natural tendency to want to shield yourself from ridicule. Therefore, it’s entirely possible that whoever is in charge of releasing information to the public might have a tendency not to share things that might get that agency in trouble.

On the other hand, when the government has no choice but to allow the public to listen in to the unfiltered conversations between officers, dispatchers, and others, it provides a low cost, real time method to ensure the public is afforded an opportunity to keep honest people honest and learn what’s really happening around them.

The law clearly says it’s ok to listen:

(7) It is lawful, unless otherwise prohibited by state or federal law, for any person:
(A) To intercept or access an electronic communication made through an electronic
communication system that is configured so that the electronic communication is readily
accessible to the general public;
(B) To intercept any radio communication which is transmitted by:
(ii) Any governmental, law enforcement, civil defense, private land mobile, or public safety communications system, including police and fire, readily accessible to the general public;

This ability is a fundamental necessity of the news media, as well. The function of the media is to pay attention to community events of interest, and report them so that we the citizens don’t have to expend as much effort trying to keep up.

When the media has their own scanners, they can decide what they are going to pursue. When they have to rent or be issued a radio from the agency they are monitoring, the agency decides what they can hear. It isn’t credible to believe that any media issued radio will have any back channels or supervisor channels programmed into them.

And, with the scrambling capability, if anyone in government decides that something occurring isn’t publicly releasable, they can freeze the media out with a single flip of the switch.

It is always better for the information to be in the hands of the public than for the public to try and go back and retrieve it.

Even though most channels are recorded, and even scrambled communications are part of the public record, accidents happen, and things can get lost.

Ok, so the media obviously needs unfettered access to government communications to keep their feet to the fire. What about the public?

The public has an even greater need than does the media. News lives and dies by the clock on the wall. They have to filter through hundreds of small items daily to find two or three noteworthy events. So, they may not cover a water main break that affects your home, because it isn’t important to the whole community. But to you, it’s incredibly important.

With a scanner, you can listen to the water department in real time as they go about their business. You don’t have to call the utility board – with a scanner, you probably will know more than the switchboard operator about what happened and when you can expect to see your services restored.

In a disaster, the need for timely information is more critical than ever. While the news may be held behind barricades, and limited to sporadic releases from the public information officer, voters at home can listen to emergency management, fire and police in real time, and get a better view of what is occurring and how it may affect you and your loved ones.

But what about that well worn, often trotted out chestnut – officer safety?

Let me preface this by giving a little of my background. In addition to monitoring communications since my early teens, holding multiple federal radio licenses, and maintaining radio equipment, I spent the majority of my life as a Police Officer. I can tell you straight up that very little of what we said on the radio threatened our safety or jeopardized our cases. Of course, we’re not Miami or LA. But having worked as a Patrolman, Patrol Sergeant, as well as a Bomb Tech, Crime Scene Tech, and serving as a Technical Surveillance Officer, more good came from the public listening than from freezing them out.

On multiple occasions, people called in when they heard us looking for a person or a vehicle. I always considered the public as a non-erasable recording of what I was doing on patrol. And in one case, they came to my rescue!

I was in an area with flakey radio coverage. Because of this, I didn’t respond to multiple requests to let the dispatcher know I was ok. A federal security guard, listening on his scanner, happened to live nearby. He got in his car and came to check on me, because he knew I was in such a remote area, and we were so short staffed that it was going to be dozens of minutes before another law enforcement officer could respond.

In fact, most government agencies around here has never had a scrambling capability, and the ones that did rarely used them. This included federal task forces. Both Blount and Loudon County has had a scrambling capability, and historically didn’t use them a great deal.

What scanner listening does do:
It tells you who gets out and works, and who holes up somewhere for the entire shift
It tells you who is constantly getting police or medical contact
It tells you which areas of your community is getting patrolled and what isn’t
It tells you the areas of your community that need more attention (crime, drugs)
If your house is on fire, someone will probably call you
When you hear a bunch of sirens, you don’t have to worry a friend or relative is in trouble, you’ll know what is going on and who is involved.

In sum, it gives the voting populace a more rich and detailed view of their community than any other medium can provide.

Certainly, the possibility for misuse is present. A criminal could use a scanner to give them an advantage. Since this has always been an issue, there has always been ways to countermeasure this threat. Any scanner listener with five minutes experience listening can tell you the old ‘switch to private’, or ‘I’m sending you that information to your pager’, or ‘standby for a 21 (wait a minute, I am going to call your cell phone)’. Nextel phones also have been used to great advantage.

And now, most agencies in East Tennessee have internet-like computer systems in their car complete with a feature similar to a ‘chat room’, giving them a little more privacy.

I say a little more, because no system is truly secure.

Every system is defeatable. It’s simply a matter of time. It can be as simple as being near a radio. You can hear everything that has been scrambled. Some users can accidentally set their radio to not scrambled, allowing their conversations to be monitored. Hackers can and do buy the same equipment that the agencies use, and modify them to listen. And, even if the encryption (scrambling) can’t be broken easily, the GPS built into many of the radios might be. You might not hear them in real time, but you’ll know where they are.

Plus, neighbors have always had a way of informing where public safety happens to be. With the advent of google groups, facebook, and other systems, it’s trivial for people to send information, including pictures, video and audio in real time to others when police serve a warrant, or conduct surveillance, or deal with a barricaded subject.

The bottom line is this:

We live under the rule of law, not the rule of man. Governmental transparency isn’t something that should be left to individuals to determine how much is to be doled out and when. We need clear, convincing legislation that directs agencies that receive tax dollars to transmit everything save a narrow window of topics unscrambled. Because, if we didn’t hear it, it never happened.
 

EZlistener

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Dec 19, 2002
Messages
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Tennessee
States generally defer to the Federal government on matters related to radio regulation. While I like clear transmissions as much as anyone here, the last institution I want meddling in radio is the Tennessee General Assembly. They don't need another part of life to screw up.
 

motohead10

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Mar 18, 2008
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Tennessee
Very long but I agree, especially for disaster situations, I would like to be able to hear what's going on.
 

high_order1

Member
Joined
Dec 24, 2001
Messages
11
Location
near Oak Ridge, Tennessee
It's admittedly long.

I actually prefaced it with an executive summary of about a paragraph. That was the detailed response. I also asked for them to repeal the yellow light law, and make it illegal to use the word 'unlimited' in advertising if it isn't...


As far as Federal intervention, I thought I read somewhere that some states have passed similar laws. And, our state law already addresses non-scrambled broadcasts.

I got a call back from Representative Matlock, I have been playing phone tag since. Nothing back from Stacey Campfield, Kent Calfee, Gloria Johnson, or Randy McNally.

I don't know how it will end, but at least I tried.


Shawn
 
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