Re: crypto comm

Rick NK7I

Nope.  I don't buy it.  Not for a minute.

I've listened in for decades also (started WAY back when the local PD was just above the AM broadcast band).  Then I got in the fire side of the business as a career (34 years).  In that we worked closely with various LE agencies, none of which comms were scrambled or encrypted; even when we migrated to trunked P25 (except fire ground ops, for that we used simplex, non-trunked P25, that was far more reliable than waiting for the controller to allow us to talk in an emergent situation).

Now that I've retired, I still like to know what is going on around me, from both my background and wanting situational awareness.  It's more than knowing if the highway is shut down and traffic stopped.  It's just part of me;  wanting to know about the environments around me just like we did at work, to jump on calls faster than dispatch handoff allowed.  It's not being nosy or paranoid at all, it's being aware.

Some officers WILL act out (it's very rare) AND be on the radio.  Not surprisingly, they're shortly gone from the agency (as is proper).  Stupid is as stupid does, they're gone quickly.

The ONLY places where encryption is really needed is for grouped sensitive information, like the SWAT team about to make entry into a potentially dangerous structure (or similar).  99% of the daily traffic is simply BORING on LE (traffic stops, domestic issues, warrant serving, whining residents, barking dogs).  For the things that ARE sensitive, encrypt or use cell phones, the vast majority isn't sensitive.

I'm not a fan of 'media' either, they do tend to get in the way (and can then be arrested for interfering with the duties of the attending staff), but they AND THE PUBLIC DO absolutely have a right to know what is going on around them in public agencies.  The courts have upheld this several times over; public agency = public dollars = public right to know without a FOIA filing, listening in is permitted (with limitations, most of them obvious). 

Develop a relationship with the media and they'll learn they can get what they need, without being in the way, when you're done managing the scene (or at a lull in the action).  Educate the media which can also benefit the agency when help is needed (budget need, BOLO or similar; they tell your story better, having some background knowledge that you've given them).  If your media is a low life root weevil, encourage the LE at your scene to 'slow their access' until the job is done (verify the credentials; that takes a few minutes at least).

If you don't want your neighbors to know you're getting arrested, don't do anything illegal and stupid. 

If you don't want them to know you're stopped for speeding AGAIN, slow down!

At the least it tells them when/if to add to their own security and know what kind of neighbors/town they have.  If it's a medical aid or fire, they'd want to be there at least offer help.  That's what neighbors do (at least in this part of the world).  In either case, unless SWAT opened the door, it's the public right to know.

So you're mistaken on the legality, but not listening is also your choice.  I choose to be informed.

Encryption also complicates inter-agency access (interoperability), required by Federal law.  In the middle of an extended pursuit or major bust; encryption has caused communication failures (even with the 'secret back door' into P25 networks).  I live between two states, each thirty miles away in opposite directions, it's not unheard of to involve all three states in a major chase BUT each agency has been successful because none of them encrypt.  A couple local LE do and have to go to unencrypted 'channels' to communicate with others.  That just adds delay into the process, often unacceptably.

For clarity, I (and a few other locals) post/transcribe (non-LE, non-medical UNLESS it affects public access) events to a public safety group, in real time so others in the area (local only) can also be aware without the cost of buying a scanner.  BUT the difference there is that no names are ever used, no specifics about injuries and much of it is generalized AND explained because I have the background (have degrees in fire and LE and experience) so this informs AND generates more support for all the agencies in the area (many of which are volunteer).  If the public has access to what the "SMITH FD" is doing to protect and serve (in a positive light), they're more likely to chip in at benefits or fund raising.

It means I can apply my training and experience while still giving something to the community I'm a part of, but without further risk to the body parts that still function.  ;-)  Creative writing isn't allowed (I can make educated guesses) and is quickly removed if presented; comments are kept appropriate as well.  This keeps the written 'noise' low for simpler reader participation.

This is entirely legal and well in 'the safe zone" because it's well filtered; the public is informed enough to be safer and it's generic (but being small towns, it doesn't take them long to find out more than what is posted, we just don't confirm or deny until the public agency has posted in more detail).  Others with scanners know the 'inside scoop' and keep quiet or chime in.  In just over a year, about 5-8% of the local (mostly very rural) area subscribes.  They really want to know more quickly in 'fire season' since the resources of the LE (as an example) are too limited to get everyone notified if an evacuation is happening.  Nixle or similar just take too long because staff is dealing with the emergent event and simply don't have the time at first.  Or they just want to know so they can adjust their travel timing; will the school buses be on time or similar.

It truly does open the door for neighbor helping neighbor; the outpouring is both sincere and rapid.  I'm in awe every time it happens.

If everything heard on a scanner was posted (some 90% of all FD tone outs are medical in nature, therefore not posted, a small percentage is ag/forest burning this time of year; also ignored), I'd never sleep and the average reader would be bored to tears and leave.  After listening for decades, scanner chatter may be constantly running in the background (4 scanners scattered around the house, all kept low volume) but I won't actively hear it unless it is within the area I want to know about AND it will cause the public (drivers for example) some issues.  The rest is simply filtered out, I don't consciously hear it.  It also sounds like a firehouse or Sheriff's office, a 'happy noise' for me.

Some may fear what the agencies (or government in general) are doing and feel if the agency encrypts must mean they're hiding something; this is a greater (mental/societal) issue than encryption but it best to keep open access to public agencies, not hide.  Even if they're paranoid, it doesn't make them wrong.

Keep secure what needs to be secure for staff safety, let the rest be heard by the public or moved to cell phones; it is the public right to access.  That is the essence of what the courts have decided.  They got it right.


PS When Yellowstone first went to an analog/P25 mix, the LE rangers (on P25) thought they were encrypted, but they weren't.  They were more 'open and relaxed' in their speech and it was absolutely hilarious.  (I listen to be aware of 'bear jams' or similar so I have better photo ops of the wildlife, but once I jumped in on a critical medical aid, the 20-25 minute ETA time for first responders would have lost the patient and I was a half mile away.  That ended well for everyone.)

On 11/11/2019 9:43 AM, richardson_ed wrote:

I have been a radio hobbyist since the 1970’s. Started listening to scanners back in the old crystal days. I have seen the introduction of voice inversion systems followed by the Motorola DVP systems on the local police systems. Our local police service went full time encryption (DES-OFB and AES256) back in 2012.  When that happened, the media (and scanner hobbyists) switched to monitoring the EMS and Fire comms and learned of all the major police events that way.


In 2017, Police and Fire went full time encrypted. As the comms system admin for all three services, we noticed a few very important benefits.

  1. Media did not show up on scene right away allowing first responders to do their jobs without having to deal with the media and the public in those critical first moments.
  2. Speculative reporting was reduced. By this I mean where reporters overhear tidbits of information and fill in the rest with creative writing.


No one has “the right” to eavesdrop on another person’s or parties communications. For those that feel somehow that it is their duty to monitor the local law enforcement comms because they feel that will prevent some form of police corruption, Grab a brain.  Have you ever heard anything on your local comms that could even suggest this was going to happen?  If some officer was going to do something they shouldn’t, they are not going to disclose or discuss this on a radio channel that is most likely recorded.


If you were that paranoid, I would also think you would be in favor of secure comms.  Do you want all your neighbors hearing that the local police, fire or ems were dispatched to your home.  Oh what would the neighbors think? The gossip that could be started!


Secure comms protect everyone’s rights to privacy. The first responders and the general public whom they are serving. Does the scanning public need to know that you had a grease fire on your stove? Do they need to know that you fell off a ladder and broke your leg?  Do they need to know that a relative in your home is stressed out, and having anxiety issues?   Of course the scanning public doesn’t have a right to know these things.


As much as I have enjoyed monitoring, it is not my right to hear anything. I miss the comms and knowing what is going on around town. However I also realize that my fellow citizens have a right to their privacy as well.


Secure comms are here, face it, accept it and move on.




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