Colorado police encrypt *all* their radio communications, frustrating journalists

Encryption is a good thing.

Colorado police encrypt *all* their radio communications, frustrating journalists

The Columbia Journalism Review writes about how encryption is making the job of crime reporting harder:

Colorado journalists on the crime beat are increasingly in the dark. More than two-dozen law enforcement agencies statewide have encrypted all of their radio communications, not just those related to surveillance or a special or sensitive operation. That means journalists and others can’t listen in using a scanner or smartphone app to learn about routine police calls.

Law enforcement officials say that’s basically the point. Scanner technology has become more accessible through smartphone apps, and encryption has become easier and less expensive. Officials say that encrypting all radio communications is good for police safety and effectiveness, because suspects sometimes use scanners to evade or target officers, and good for the privacy of crime victims, whose personal information and location can go out over the radio.

Sure, I can see how this is a nuisance for crime beat reporters as they can’t snoop on police communications. It makes it harder for journalists to respond rapidly to breaking news. And it can be argued that it reduces transparency.

But, if we value our privacy, encrypted communications should be the default not the exception. For all of us.

And I bet the police in Colorado are pleased that they didn’t build a backdoor into their encrypted communications which journalists and criminals could exploit to spy on sensitive conversations.

As I’ve said before: encryption is a good thing, not a bad thing.

Encryption protects our privacy from hackers and organised criminals. It defends our bank accounts, our shopping, our identities.

There are too many data breaches involving organisations who have failed to properly secure our data.

Too many hacks where criminals and state-sponsored hackers have intercepted sensitive information and used it to their own advantage.

Too many instances where security services and intelligence agencies have spied on their country’s citizens either with the approval of authoritarian regimes, or broken the law to illegally collect vast amounts of personal data without proper oversight or the public even being aware of what was going on.

Real people care about their privacy. They close the door when they go to the bathroom. They put on clothes before they step outside on the street. They protect their online accounts with passwords.

I’m pleased to see the police in Colorado encrypt their communications.

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5 Responses

  1. Gene Foster

    January 26, 2019 at 6:30 pm #

    This wouldn’t have happened if that irresponsible radio resource had not made this available to smartphones. It used to be highly illegal to rebroadcast anything and the old FCC would have stomped on their neck for doing this. The FCC just sat on their ass and allowed it to happen . They are using AES 256 to encrypt and to try to force break this is nearly impossible however if you get near one of these two way radios the shielding isn’t that great and you can read the data before it reaches encryption. One fellow in Australia has already done it as well as two in the U.S. I have 1st class radiophone lic. and wold be fun to try. It’s using the dongle approach. The guy in Australia already has it on U-tube. Radio resource could never rebroadcast this because it’s proprietary and they would get sued and probably charged. Sometimes the cops do need to be watches. That large computer bank in Orange County defeated DES and DVP however this AES 256 is a whole different animal.

    • Patrick in reply to Gene Foster.

      January 28, 2019 at 10:45 pm #

      Why not duplicate their hardware and social engineer your way to the encryption settings? Not as elegant as “breaking” the encryption but its the result, not how you get there that counts.

  2. Ian B

    January 27, 2019 at 1:29 pm #

    Let’s hope these police also realise that encryption is good for the masses too.

    I wonder how they will treat your cell phone in a routine traffic stop.

  3. Etaoin Shrdlu

    January 27, 2019 at 7:50 pm #

    Police in Denver
    don’t like them longhairs
    hangin’ round.

  4. SteveP

    January 29, 2019 at 7:32 am #

    If the authorities have to rely on draconian regs (rather than effective encryption) to secure their comms, what does this tell us? By criminalising an action, they affect only the law-abiding - crooks are already crooks.

    It’s like the UK signs saying “No photography” (London’s Kensington Palace Gardens). It’s not a law, and just what 9-yr-old child could not record surreptitiously these days? It implies our guardians are stuck in the last century

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