First Responders Address Pros and Cons of Radio Encryption

Some departments with digital radios have turned off their encryption.

Some law enforcement agencies and fire departments have acknowledged that encrypting their digital radios may put officers and firefighters in danger, and have decided not to conceal their dispatch communications from the public.

The move has its strengths and weaknesses, reports ABC News. Proponents of turning off encryption say first responders might not be heard by responders from other jurisdictions with older radios or that don’t have access to encrypted channels.

“…for day-to-day operations where officers are going across borders in emergency pursuits or foot pursuits, that’s where [communication via radios with encryption] tends to break down,” says Eddie Reyes, deputy chief of Amtrak police and chairman of the International Association of Chiefs of Police communications and technology committee.

Additionally, turning off encryption addresses police transparency concerns by law enforcement critics.

Opponents to turning off encryption, however, say criminals sometimes track police movements by listening to their communications. Additionally, encryption prevents the public broadcasting of personal information, such as medical histories and the identities of minors. Also, people listening to police communications might post misleading or inaccurate information on social media.

Some are opting to encrypt channels dedicated to tactical operations while keeping the main channel open.

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