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Police Encrypt Radios To Tune Out Public

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the for-our-ears-only dept.

Encryption 242

Hugh Pickens writes writes "Police departments around the country are moving to shield their radio communications from the public as cheap, user-friendly technology has made it easy for anyone to use handheld devices to keep tabs on officers responding to crimes and although law enforcement officials say they want to keep criminals from using officers' internal chatter to evade them, journalists and neighborhood watchdogs say open communications ensures that the public receives information as quickly as possible that can be vital to their safety. 'Whereas listeners used to be tied to stationary scanners, new technology has allowed people — and especially criminals — to listen to police communications on a smartphone from anywhere,' says DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier who says that a group of burglars who police believe were following radio communications on their smartphones pulled off more than a dozen crimes before ultimately being arrested. But encryption also makes it harder for neighboring jurisdictions to communicate in times of emergency. 'The 9/11 commission concluded America's number one vulnerability during the attacks was the lack of interoperability communications,' writes Vernon Herron, 'I spoke to several first responders who were concerned that their efforts to respond and assist at the Pentagon after the attacks were hampered by the lack of interoperability with neighboring jurisdictions.'"

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242 comments

It won't work, Sheila! (4, Funny)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38151854)

You can tune me out from monitoring your radio, but you can't tune out my love.

Well (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 2 years ago | (#38151870)

Looks like we have a new challenge... First person to break the code wins an... eraser(?)

Re:Well (5, Informative)

jrmcferren (935335) | more than 2 years ago | (#38151908)

No, they will win a trip to federal PMTIA prison as decrypting communications without authorization is a violation of the communications act of 1934 as amended as well as other laws.

Re:Well (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38152050)

No kidding.

The reason the cops want encryption technology isn't to avoid burglars or thieves "listening in" to hear if they're coming.

They want it encrypted so that nobody can listen in to the radio when the local piggies radio in about picking up "two wetbacks in a sports car" or "two niggers in an expensive truck" in Alabama who need to be brought in under the latest racist, xenophobic Republican law.

Re:Well (3, Informative)

Known Nutter (988758) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152136)

I don't really believe there is a basis in fact for your statement.

Keep in mind that many agencies (not all) which do encrypt provide subscriber units to the media. In either case, someone is always listening.

Re:Well (5, Insightful)

Moryath (553296) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152242)

I don't necessarily know that there isn't basis. Certainly, a basic search [google.com] turns up plenty of video.

Whenever the police are trying to hide information from the public, the first question you should ask is what they're likely to hide, not what they SAY they are wanting to prevent from being released. Pretexting is very common among governmental agencies trying to grab more power.

Re:Well (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38152276)

Yea, good reason to prevent this: make sure white people dont say anything less than glowing about peepholes of color.

You are a fucking idiot.

Re:Well (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38152388)

Federal Pound Me The In Ass prison?

Re:Well (1)

P-niiice (1703362) | more than 2 years ago | (#38151922)

They'll win a nice unscheduled visit from our fine boys in law enforcement, a patriot act violation, and a free most-expenses paid vacation of duration to be determined at a facility at someone's random whim. Enjoy!

Re:Well (1)

Synerg1y (2169962) | more than 2 years ago | (#38151928)

It will happen and if it's trace probably a prison sentence. Hardware encryption is static rather than dynamic to the best of my knowledge. Of course loading software on the radio creates an interesting range of possibilities but then we're talking $$$$ probably.

Re:Well (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152060)

Federal and police radio don't have static keys. There are mechanisms for rekeying.

See Project 25 [wikipedia.org] for a starting place if you want to go digging.

Re:Well (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38152270)

The drug smugglers also believe in having the best radios and use rolling encryption (rekeying automatically every so often)

Re:Well (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38152054)

Forget breaking it, just jam that shit. if I can't hear it, neither will they.

Re:Well (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38152306)

Forget breaking it, just jam that shit

Coincidentally, that's exactly what you'll be hearing for the next 8-10 years after you attempt this.

Re:Well (1)

Garybaldy (1233166) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152334)

This, but make sure to keep it mobile. While turning it off from time to time. Police: you maybe able to beat me, but you can't beat my radio. What radio you say.

Scanner Proof... (5, Informative)

Mister Transistor (259842) | more than 2 years ago | (#38151886)

Encryption also makes the conversations unavailable to portable scanners, as well as the internet audio feeds to smartphones. These have been around a lot longer. It is just the recent upsurge in people using the scanner audio streaming apps that is feeding this latest FUD. In my state there is a concerted statewide effort to get all local municipalities on the state-wide system, which can very easily use encryption if the local agency wants to. This is aimed at "fixing" interoperability by having everyone on the same system using the same keys.

Re:Scanner Proof... (2)

TWX (665546) | more than 2 years ago | (#38151980)

Wouldn't it make more sense to have levels? Assuming that there's enough bandwidth for city-level, county-level, state-level, and federal law enforcement on a given piece of spectrum in a given area, wouldn't it just make sense for each municipality to have their own that can't be readily listened in on by others, but also be able to switch, with different credentials, to different encryption that could be read by other agencies? Or maybe to have one bit of spectrum and encryption for individual cities and agencies, and one for metro areas?

Re:Scanner Proof... (4, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152026)

Wouldn't it make more sense to have levels? Assuming that there's enough bandwidth for city-level, county-level, state-level, and federal law enforcement on a given piece of spectrum in a given area, wouldn't it just make sense for each municipality to have their own that can't be readily listened in on by others, but also be able to switch, with different credentials, to different encryption that could be read by other agencies? Or maybe to have one bit of spectrum and encryption for individual cities and agencies, and one for metro areas?

Or just have 'clear' channels. Your multi agency command and control channels SHOULD NOT be encrypted. That's for use in a disaster when you want everybody on the same page. Sure, encrypt the police channels - that is a reasonable thing to do to keep perverts^Hperps from being one jump ahead of the police. Everything else, not so much.

Re:Scanner Proof... (5, Informative)

Mister Transistor (259842) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152118)

They do, sort of. Trunked radio systems use "talkgroups" which are isolated group-call (multicast) messages aimed at specific radios. You can send a voice "message" (transmission) to a specific radio if needed, but normal transmission go to the entire talkgroup. You would have Fire on one, Police dispatch on one, detectives on one, etc. That way they normally only get traffic they are interested in, but in an emergency they would all switch to a "city-wide" talkgroup so everone would hear everything. They also can reserve the talkgroups to be forced encryption or forced non-encrypted (clear) in case someone doesn't have the proper keys.

There are also common clear channels reserved for interoperability nation-wide in the 800 MHz band just in case someone outside the state needs to join in the fun.

Re:Scanner Proof... (1)

reasterling (1942300) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152146)

This is aimed at "fixing" interoperability by having everyone on the same system using the same keys.

Given that these channels are monitored by police, ambulance, ER, and the fire dept. I question the feasibility of putting all on the same encrypted channel. You create a single point of failure that is beyond the control of the police. Not saying that it can't be done, but that if the police truly want privacy they need an alternate channel that they control. They should use the open channel most of the time and only use the encrypted channel when they need ...

privacy.

P.S.

The entire concept of the police having the ability to hide what they are doing from the people is really disturbing.

Re:Scanner Proof... (5, Insightful)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152212)

The entire concept of the police having the ability to hide what they are doing from the people is really disturbing.

Yes, but you have to admit there are certain important exceptions. But this can be easily rectified by recording the transmissions and using the key one time, so the signal can be decrypted after the fact.

I'm thinking of on-the-ground tactical radios. SWAT and such - there's not much reason the general public needs to hear that live, and you most definitely don't want some jackoff with a hostage catching wind to the fact there's a sniper aiming at him. Tends to make negotiation a bit difficult I would imagine.

Re:Scanner Proof... (0)

fnj (64210) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152448)

I'm pretty sure that all hostage takers work under the assumption that there are snipers trying to take a bead on them at all times during a hostage situation. And that includes during any negotiations they may engage in. So I don't think your objection carries any weight.

Re:Scanner Proof... (3, Informative)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152580)

The point is when the negotiator is trying to talk them down, you don't want them to hear the radio chatter about the team getting ready to shoot him if it fails. That jacks his stress right up, and makes it much more likely he'll panic and do something stupid, getting people killed or hurt.

You can wait an hour to find out what Officer Joe said.

Re:Scanner Proof... (0)

fnj (64210) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152614)

You don't think he is about as stressed as he can get already?

Re:Scanner Proof... (3, Informative)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152666)

No, he isn't. The whole job of the negotiator is to bring it down then try to talk them out. If their stress is firewalled the whole time, then that negotiator is doing a very poor job.

And remember, I'm not saying encrypt it and never ever release the key. I'm only talking about delaying. We still get our oversight, and they still get their operational security.

Re:Scanner Proof... (1)

murdocj (543661) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152626)

So when the sniper is saying "I'm lined up, ok to take the shot?" you figure no problem if the hostage taker is tuned in?

Re:Scanner Proof... (1)

Kamiza Ikioi (893310) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152476)

That's great, which means someone will leak a key (or it will get cracked, because I doubt the can change often if an entire state uses it), and police will be more candid while base station scanners will stream decrypted audio streams of the entire state online. All it takes is one police radio with the correct key to crack the entire system.

As a network administrator, getting people to not write their VPN passwords on a post it or text file on their desktop is hard. I doubt an entire state of law enforcement and emergency services is going to do much better. All it takes is one freedom minded cop to post the passkey to a message board, and the entire state would have to change. Possibly a centralized sync tech to allow state capital servers to set the keys would mitigate this.

Took long enough (4, Interesting)

Anrego (830717) | more than 2 years ago | (#38151890)

I get that there are probably huge cost and scale issues, but it has always baffled me that police communications are still mostly unencrypted as complex encryption technology has gotten cheaper and cheaper.

Re:Took long enough (3, Insightful)

SeanDS (1039000) | more than 2 years ago | (#38151948)

I get that there are probably huge cost and scale issues, but it has always baffled me that police communications are still mostly unencrypted as complex encryption technology has gotten cheaper and cheaper.

Yes, until I saw this article I thought the police would have been encrypting this kind of stuff for years.

Re:Took long enough (5, Informative)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#38151950)

Not a radio operator are you? Digital systems don't work so well with interference or weak signals. On a digital system you'd end up with garbage or silence where without the cipher and digital codec, you might actually be able to hear them through the noise. So, there is a distinct advantage to open analog.

That said, encryption certainly has it's place. Squad-level tactical circuits for SWAT, for example.

Re:Took long enough (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#38151970)

quick note: i'm talking about phone operation. data is digital by definition, I know, but the analog transmission systems suck as MFSK or PSK tend to be quite robust as well.

Re:Took long enough (1)

Mister Transistor (259842) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152036)

Voice IS data. The encryption systems necessarily digitize the voice using a vocoder, then scramble the bitstream. The only "encryption" for analog signals is frequency-inversion ("donald duck" sounding type old-school "scramblers").

Re:Took long enough (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152098)

Er, no.... on my own equipment my voice drives the phase modulator directly. At no point is it digital, though it DOES use transistor amplifiers, digital controls, and a digital synthesizer to drive the oscillators. Unless you're arging that information is data, and it is. But in the context I'm talking about, we mean Phone vs Data - analog audio vs text.

Donald duck is what you hear when you are listening to the wrong sideband, or are "off center" of the sideband. That's not anything to do with scramblers, that's just someone with bad or poorly-operated equipment not understanding what they are hearing.

Re:Took long enough (2)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152302)

Er, no.... on my own equipment my voice drives the phase modulator directly. At no point is it digital,

And thus you are not using a digital radio system. And thus you will not have available the modern digital encryption methods.

Modern encryption uses modern algorythms on the digital data produced by digitizing the voice analog signal. The voice becomes data upon which DES or AES or whatever encoding is applied.

Donald duck is what you hear when you are listening to the wrong sideband, or are "off center" of the sideband. That's not anything to do with scramblers,

Yes, actually, it is. In a frequency-inversion analog system, you mix the voice signal with another fixed frequency, inverting the frequency content of the voice. E.g., a 3kHz tone in voice will move to 300 Hz and vice versa. This is EXACTLY the same as listening to "the wrong sideband" in single sideband radio, and that's exactly what the process is supposed to create.

Re:Took long enough (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152356)

I stand corrected and a bit smarter now. Thanks :)

Sounds like you're just describing a mixer in a superhet - same idea, different purpose.

Re:Took long enough (1)

Mister Transistor (259842) | more than 2 years ago | (#38151952)

Actually no. Almost all the modern digital radios have a simple software encryption built-in. This makes it trivial to just turn on to use it. If a higher degree of security is required, then a hardware encryption board can be added as an option to most of the newer radios, that make them secure for even government non-classified traffic (lowest level of security but still encrypted). Anyway, since it is so easy and no extra cost to have basic encryption a lot of agencies are using it by default nowadays.

Re:Took long enough (1)

sribe (304414) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152332)

I get that there are probably huge cost and scale issues, but it has always baffled me that police communications are still mostly unencrypted...

They're mostly analog still... Which is part of the problem with coordinating across jurisdictions. An analog channel carries only 1 conversation at a time; different jurisdictions--even different departments within a single jurisdiction--use different channels, with dispatchers relaying messages...

As a criminal, I am against this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38151900)

I am a member of the public and a criminal. I am against this. I need to know when and where the police are coming after me. I have rights, you know. information wants to be free!

Re:As a criminal, I am against this (1)

P-niiice (1703362) | more than 2 years ago | (#38151960)

Most people who aren't authoritarians are concerned about openness of Police action. I listen to police transmissions on my phone all the time.

reason 328 (1)

jbolden (176878) | more than 2 years ago | (#38151904)

Well this of course could easily be solved by national standards dictated from Washington tied to various financial incentives. We couldn't do that during the Bush administration because "we don't want the government picking winners and losers" so instead we had 11 years of no progress. Now we could just pick a good solution and go with it.

Re:reason 328 (3, Informative)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152478)

Well this of course could easily be solved by national standards dictated from Washington tied to various financial incentives. We couldn't do that during the Bush administration because "we don't want the government picking winners and losers" so instead we had 11 years of no progress. Now we could just pick a good solution and go with it.

And that is, of course, why the APCO P25 digital standard wasn't developed during the Bush years and didn't become a standard required by federal funding agencies for new purchases.

And that is why, in this modern, standards-friendly administration, we are now adding MotoTrbo and Tetra as alternative (non-interoperable) digital standards.

This issue is not new, and it is not surprising. Not to anyone who actually has to deal with it. Everyone talks about "interoperability" and how great it is, but then we push for ever-fancier technology which is inherantly NOT interoperable, or interoperable only at a huge price.

For example, moving from 150MHz VHF to 700MHz. Under 150MHz VHF analog (or even digital) I can bring MY radio to an incident, and as long as I have the right frequency and digital "squelch" programmed in, I can participate. With 700MHz, my radio might not even have the right digital format, and it will not talk to the existing system because the system will lock it out. Not to mention that if I want to talk to my people there, I will have to have my 150MHz radio, and then a 700MHz radio to talk to other people. Two radios.

Yes, there is movement towards multi-band public service radios, but that's the "huge price" I'm referring to. A digital single-band radio will run about $1500 for a reasonable version. A multi-band starts at $5k and goes up. That's not to say a high-feature single band is cheap -- the latest handhelds CAP distributed are list price $4500 or more.

Interoperability used to mean "everyone can talk to each other" directly. Now it means "everyone might be able to find someone they can talk to that can also talk to someone else", or at best, "someone will have a portable linking system that will link two systems together." It's more of a nightmare now than it was ten years ago.

There's an app for that? (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#38151910)

I figured the easiest way to get a police scanner on your phone would be to build some fancy remote control / audio streaming setup...you mean there was an easy way to get local police scanner access on your phone?

Re:There's an app for that? (5, Informative)

Known Nutter (988758) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152102)

Yes, there's an app for that.

Basically, you've got it right. Folks around the world have scanners plugged into streaming software on their computers which stream up to a centralized service. RadioReference.com serves up the majority of these feeds. RR provides a API whereby any app developer can access the streams.... thus there are many apps on all platforms for monitoring public safety agencies in most areas of the US.

Part of the argument against streaming police radio feeds in this way is obvious. It provides the bad guys a quick and easy way to listen in, where in the past you had to purchase a scanner or two, know how to use it, etc. etc... accordingly, some in the scanning community have advocated for a delay built into the stream (5-15 minutes, say) in an effort to appease law enforcement into not going encrypted. I think the damage is done though as more and more agencies continue to go digital/encrypted, mostly on the back of grants funded by federal US tax dollars.

Why not Opt-In encryption or sharing the keys? (2)

j-pimp (177072) | more than 2 years ago | (#38151920)

Generally speaking, why not use a solution where you can opt-in or out of the encryption? There can be a a clear radio channel that all emergency responders in a jurisdiction can broadcast to unencrypted to, and encrypted ones when that's deemed necessary. I'm not sure where I stand on the encryption. Honestly, encryption might work if it was was weak enough where you could brute force after a certain period of time. While there are abuses for closed communication of LEO's, there are plenty of channels where that could occur. If a scrambled signal was available that would be encrypted long enough to not let burgulars know the cops were coming, but would show weeks later that the cops planted those drugs on the suspect, that seems like a good balance.

Re:Why not Opt-In encryption or sharing the keys? (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#38151986)

From what I've heard on the air, it's usually just like you said - long distance nonsensitive communication tends to be open (for a variety of reasons) but the tactical frequencies usually are (and should be) encrypted.

Still, a smart criminal will know what that signal sounds like, and know that hearing that in close proximity is bad news.

Re:Why not Opt-In encryption or sharing the keys? (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152052)

Still, a smart criminal will know what that signal sounds like, and know that hearing that in close proximity is bad news.

BOO! I'm a repeater. And I'm right next to you. Signal strength (as determined by radio audio output) isn't a very sensitive discriminator of distance.

Re:Why not Opt-In encryption or sharing the keys? (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152128)

Well, true enough. Do they use repeaters for those short range tactical radios?

Re:Why not Opt-In encryption or sharing the keys? (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152144)

oh also: you'd also be able to figure out if that's in play just by 'looking' to either side of the signal. (input and output frequencies are usually separated). You can tell simplex from repeater usage even without the actual 'data' being intelligible.

Re:Why not Opt-In encryption or sharing the keys? (1)

Known Nutter (988758) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152206)

The handheld radio is still going to transmit on low power to the repeater. The input/output frequency pair information of the repeaters is public knowledge. Therefore, if you simply scan the INPUT frequency(ies) of the repeater(s) and you pick up signal, that means you have a mobile or portable radio in your area (say within 1/4 mile or so, depending on the position of your receiver).

Re:Why not Opt-In encryption or sharing the keys? (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152268)

Yep, I replied to myself. I realized that too late to include it in what you just replied to. Even if you don't know the exact signals, you can watch a spectrum analyzer and just look for signal pairs.

Re:Why not Opt-In encryption or sharing the keys? (3)

Pope (17780) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152642)

BOO! I'm a repeater.

Hey! Stop all the radioing!

Re:Why not Opt-In encryption or sharing the keys? (1)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152218)

Do the cops ever chat about planting drugs on victims (let's not call them suspects) over the radio? I'd assume that even the stupidest pig would know to keep that sort of thing between him and his partner.

Publish Them (5, Interesting)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 2 years ago | (#38151924)

There is a real argument that realtime police communications requires secrecy to protect police and their operations while they do the majority of their work that is indeed properly protecting the public.

But there is also a real argument that hiding those communications also hides lots of the minority of their work that at best doesn't protect the public, some of which severely harms the public.

These arguments don't conflict when the realtime parameter is removed. Both legitimate cop business and legitimate public protection are served if all these comms are published after some short delay. Like the following day, or perhaps even just a few hours later.

Publishing them also removes the advantage that some people have who can spend on equipment to monitor the comms. Instead any interested member of the public can check them. All of them, compared to audited logs of the activity on the cops comms equipment. The publication order has to have teeth, prosecuting people for obstructing justice when they're hiding cop comms they find inconvenient to reveal.

Re:Publish Them (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152066)

Virtually all public service radio channels are recorded. If you have the right credentials (and this would be the issue) you can get access to them. They're used in rehashing calls, determining times and for internal investigations. Offhand, I have no idea how or if the public could get access to the tapes, but they are there.

Re:Publish Them (4, Informative)

wheels4me (871935) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152568)

Seriously? How can you be that naive on /,? The US Attorney in Seattle can't get SPD video. He had to take the SPD to court to get video and still likely never got all of what he asked for. Who has the "right credentials"? Certainly not the local ABC affiliate, KOMO TV. They sued and got jacked around. "In October of 2008, Rachner was arrested while out with friends. Police stopped them, and Rachner refused to identify himself, which is not legally mandatory. He was arrested for obstruction of justice. One officer bragged to colleagues he arrested Rachner because he “acted edjumicated.” Rachner filed a complaint with the Office of Professional Accountability, the civilian-run oversight organization of the Seattle Police Department. Immediately after he filed the complaint, the city filed obstruction charges against Rachner that were later dropped because the prosecution lacked proof. Rachner received one dash-cam video recorded from a police cruiser’s dashboard camera during his criminal case but learned of six others that police refused to release. Rachner sued the Seattle police in 2008 for covering up the existence of the six other videos from the night of his arrest and other records pertaining to his case. He won a judgement against them in 2010, but filed a subsequent lawsuit on Oct.6, 2011, for false arrest, “spoilation of video evidence” and “malicious prosecution.” According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Seattle Police Department is currently under federal investigation for not releasing video evidence from dash-cams when requested. Seattle news station KOMO, an ABC affiliate, filed a lawsuit against the SPD in September, claiming that the SPD had knowingly violated the Washington state Public Records Act. U.S. Attorney Mike McKay of Seattle has also sued the SPD for refusing to release records about criminal investigations and arrests." I would far and away rather have a few more property crimes than leave in a secret police state.

Due to budget constraints (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38151926)

The police themselves will have to encrypt their speech.Training video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2syMaK_c1w

Re:Due to budget constraints (1)

ivi (126837) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152070)

Not Pig Latin (but, for some, I see the pun might work...)

I was thinking of that other YouTube vid... of two babies chatting away, with all the body language needed to communicate well.

Obvious solution that they're ignoring (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38151954)

Why not only encrypt traffic that needs to be secret? or better yet, do that and send out both signals, one encrypted with lots of information, and one not encrypted with information for the public.

Not very detailed (1)

pgpalmer (2015142) | more than 2 years ago | (#38151994)

So the article says that they'll be using encryption on their radios, but doesn't really say how it'll be encrypted: would the user have to punch in a numerical code, or would the encrypted be hard-wired into the radio itself (with an encrypt/don't-encrypt switch)?

Officers will use an unencrypted channel starting next month to alert the public to traffic delays.

So do they or do they not like people listening in on their communications?

Re:Not very detailed (1)

Known Nutter (988758) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152426)

They encrypt using the APCO Project 25 Digital Radio standard:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_25 [wikipedia.org]

Allowing the user to select weather encryption is enabled or disabled as he transmits is problematic for many reasons, two of these being that he could mistakenly transmit sensitive information in the clear when he intended encrypted and in the event of a problem, a radio without a non-encrypted means of transmitting could result in the user not being able to transmit in an emergency.

Most sane configurations would have non-encrypted and encrypted talkgroups on the system.

so what if i file a FOIA for the encryption key? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38151996)

then i wouldn't be hacking it. heh

Re:so what if i file a FOIA for the encryption key (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38152392)

And after 6 years of fighting for it, they'll send you a piece of paper with everything blanked out.

Easy fix. (4, Insightful)

Voogru (2503382) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152034)

The solution is actually pretty simple. Use encryption and have it send out the data in the clear after [X] minutes. You can still listen in, but it's [X] minutes old, so not much use to criminals.

Re:Easy fix. (0)

uncanny (954868) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152074)

[radio on officer bob's corpse] "BOB, LOOK BEHIND YOU, THERE IS A GUY WITH A KNIFE"
some times real time communication is a good thing

Re:Easy fix. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38152114)

The encrypted signal gets sent out immediately, dumbass. Bob hears the message when it's sent because he's got a radio tuned in to the encrypted channel; everyone with public radio scanners hears it later.

Hiding from the public (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152038)

they are hiding their communications from the public, I guess they have things to hide.

This will be cracked, but of-course it will be declared illegal to brake these communications (and DMCA can be used for this).

Police are just the tools in the hands of the lawless corrupt governments that are used to force the population to obey the power.

Re:Hiding from the public (0)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152436)

Yep, because Asshole McHostageTaker should hear about that SWAT team about to bust in so he can kill the poor victim before anything can be done about it?

Extremes are bad, mmkay? We don't want it to always be encrypted, but we also don't want it to never be.

Sounds like more standards needed here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38152042)

A solution to the interop issue exists: Standards, for all makers of gear to use.

To sell into this market should require proven compliance to interop standards,
across brands & models.

Easily fixed.

It's just basic common sense. (1)

wcrowe (94389) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152048)

Heck, how can you have a secret police force if everything they do isn't kept secret? Do not be concerned, citizens. Our secret police force will keep us safe and secure and will inform us of all secret police matters deemed important for the security of our glorious homeland.

Stopping the bad press. (4, Interesting)

BrookHarty (9119) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152076)

This has nothing to do with safety, this is to mute the press. The press follows the scanner conversations to report on all accidents and incidents. With police hiding records and conversations due to lawsuits, we dont need more "hidden" police communications, we them open to keep them honest.

Its bad enough the PR for police is on TV, almost 1/2 of the line up are some cop based shows, perfect cops fighting evil criminals.

In reality, we have a growing movement in the US to keep police honest due to the mega lawsuits in almost every major city. I'm in Seattle, and the police abuse is way out of hand here. The internal coverups, the blue code of silence, the getting ride of whistle blowers, the incompetent police are costing this state with awards and settlements in the millions. Its also sad that the state budget hides these lawsuits. The most open lawsuit loses, department of transportation, they list every payout in our budget. We need that detail for police.

Re:Stopping the bad press. (4, Interesting)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152604)

This has nothing to do with safety, this is to mute the press. The press follows the scanner conversations to report on all accidents and incidents. With police hiding records and conversations due to lawsuits, we dont need more "hidden" police communications, we them open to keep them honest.

As someone who works in SAR, I can tell you that muting the press is a valuable and useful goal, for two reasons. First, if we find something or someone, it would be very nice if eighty reporters and cameramen didn't descend upon the scene and get in the way of trying to save a life or even just preserve evidence at a crime scene. And second, family members of the person we are looking for are better served learning about the results of a search from an in-person discussion with a trained professional than a news flash on the radio.

Well.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38152096)

I guess we won't be able to have as many street races like the ones you see in fast and furious anymore :p

Poor superheroes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38152122)

How will Spiderman and other super heroes be able to keep a tab on crime?

Why not use standards? (1)

Keruo (771880) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152134)

'The 9/11 commission concluded America's number one vulnerability during the attacks was the lack of interoperability communications,' writes Vernon Herron, 'I spoke to several first responders who were concerned that their efforts to respond and assist at the Pentagon after the attacks were hampered by the lack of interoperability with neighboring jurisdictions.'"

Wikipedia quote:

TETRA [wikipedia.org] was specifically designed for use by government agencies, emergency services, (police forces, fire departments, ambulance) for public safety networks, rail transportation staff for train radios, transport services and the military.

This is widely used standard around the world despite the slight downsides of the system.
Anyone want to guess if US government goes with standard system or decides to spend few hundred million to reinvent the wheel?

Re:Why not use standards? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38152300)

Woohoo, more reliance on proprietary encryption algorithms which are rely on security through obscurity. That's the way! Go TEA!

Possible compromise (1)

pclminion (145572) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152150)

Why not use a rolling window of encryption keys, and publish the keys after 24 hours or so? That way, criminals can't make use of real time updates on police status, but the police are still required to keep their asses clean on the radio?

Re:Possible compromise (1)

AdamJS (2466928) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152372)

A good idea, but I can see general police incompetence leading to most officers and their equipment not utilizing the right keys on disaster day and it ending in, well, disaster.

Maybe cheap but not user friendly (1)

Garybaldy (1233166) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152174)

Cheap now. It has always been cheap. 20 years ago you could pick up radio shacks cheapest scanner (about $100 us) and monitor the police. As for user friendly. It was far easier before trunking came about. Then truck capable scanner got user friendly. Then the trunking systems switched to digital. Digital has not been user friendly or cheap. The encryption just steps it up a notch.

9/11 Monies screwed it up (3, Interesting)

quetwo (1203948) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152176)

Right after 9/11, all sorts of grants and public monies came out so that police and other first responsers could upgrade their aging systems -- also with the stipulation that the communities work together to be able to allow intercommunications.

Everybody wrote a grant and everybody got a brand new radio system.

Very few people worked together to make sure they were compatible with eachother. In fact, since most departments moved to digital systems on dedicated frequencies, they lopped off a whole integration system between different radios that allowed officers to talk from one municipality to another.

In our case, our State Police post can only communicate to the 5 surrounding municipalities via cell phone (or land-line, I guess). We have a central dispatch that does our 911 center, and they have to have 3 different radio systems in order to communicate with the three areas they dispatch for. It is a complete mess, and it call came from each silo wanting to do their own thing and not talking to anybody else.

And I know we are not the only ones...

Australian Cops (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38152180)

Most of the Australian Police forces in metro areas have been switched to encrypted digital radio (using Motorola I think) since ~2008. Primarily due to the media listening in and arriving to many major incidences before police. Tow truck drivers listened in to get to car accidents before competitors. etc. Most police officers ended up using personal mobile phones for any sensitive info.

Of-course all encryption schemes are doomed to failure http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/hi-tech-hackers-crack-nsw-police-force-22-million-encrypted-radio-system/story-0-1226119185214

Sine and Tetra... (4, Informative)

MindPrison (864299) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152350)

Man...even though I know a lot more about this than the average Slashdot audience, your idiot mods are probably going to mod me out into -1000 troll territory for saying what I'm about to say, but guess what - bring it on mods, you're morons...not techs....so I can afford it...

Not a single person of you here, know what the SINE or TETRA system is...but I'm going to explain it to you. (gawd knows why...)...but I'm all for information to the public, so I'm going to tell...

In Scandinavia the police use Sine and Tetra. The radios are developed by Motorola and often called "Spectra". (google it if you must), these have a specific software & hardware encryption system. It works something like this - every unit has a GPS built in, in fact...it's kind of like a 10 year old cell-phone with a GPS, pretty crappy screens, but it does sport TETRA and SINE, an infra-system that is very difficult to crack (but HAS been cracked, with a 32-piece FPGA card...again...google this, I don't care what you know), or you could use an average pc. to crack one minute of conversation in 1 hour if you don't care to have it real-time.

The thing is...the police wanted a system that was interconnected with the Fire-department, Hospital & Ambulance, and lock out any of the public listeners as they could be drug-distributors, thieves & criminals...but things didn't exactly go according to plans, the system failed numerous times, and they had to revert to their old systems (which...btw...also had an analog&digital encryption option...that still hasn't been cracked...)

However....this new system had a downside...namely people! People all over the country was used to owning and listening to police radio...you know...analog signals...kind of like your FM or CB radio...for years, like the last 30 years...these where gone now, everything was SINE (tetra) and digital, so no layman out there could listen in (unless they where geeks, and purchased the very expensive 16x2 (32) FPGA cards for their pcs...and installed the geeky software) realtime, so the police didn't get the info on purps...as they usually got from the faithful legal scanner listeners...they used to get information from.

What do I mean by this? Imagine your average joe out there, wanting some action, purchasing a Scanner...he listens in....hears the police talking about some criminal in his neighborhood...he looks outside the window...discovers the purp...calls the police, and informs..

Now...he can't do that anymore, because it's encrypted...

The only people who can do this now...is the Drug barons with a lot of money to buy the Open-Source 32-FPGA cards that are available to the public...and eliminating the average JOE from listening in...helping the police.. ...I bet the authorities didn't see that one coming.

Re:Sine and Tetra... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38152554)

...and eliminating the average JOE from listening in...helping the police.. ...I bet the authorities didn't see that one coming.
 
Yes they did. Who do you think they really don't want listening in?

Re:Sine and Tetra... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38152630)

Im sorry but let me fill you in on someone who works in policing. The publics information is considered private (much like healthcare and HIPPA). They have to pass very stringent computer/network security configurations and auditing to be able to process the data. While this is in place and all good, Joe Public can hear it on unencrypted (analog or digital) via scanner. If someone getting their plate run gets information leaked (most information is NOT needed by the public and only on rare occasions is it helpful) and harassed because someone heard it on a scanner, they could sue the police dept. for not protecting their systems by going to encryption (not really hackable, NexEdge or Motorola Turbo encryption). It is NOT the publics business to hear who is being pulled over and their birthdates, who they can and cant be around, etc. That is PRIVATE. Many times someones name is listed on the radio and they are NOT persons of interest in terms of being wanted, but rather a sexual assault or domestic assault victim. How would you like it if your sister was raped or beat up by her ex bf or something, would you like that all over the airwaves for the public to hear? I bet you wouldn't.

Most police departments to appease the media and public now put crime stats and summaries of arrests or incidents on maps or in daily reports for download after the fact that may or may not include someones name and birthdate. If you do want to hear unedited information, you can put a Freedom of Information request in for any incident that is of interest to you that is not currently before the courts (anything in front of the courts is only for the defense and the DAs). This is to prevent influencing a decision by incorrect information.

If you want to have a say and want to complain, I suggest you attend your police boards public meetings that you can hear the ongoings of the station including budget and implementation, otherwise, stop complaining.

Re:Sine and Tetra... (2)

macwhizkid (864124) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152684)

Imagine your average joe out there, wanting some action, purchasing a Scanner...he listens in....hears the police talking about some criminal in his neighborhood...he looks outside the window...discovers the purp...calls the police, and informs..

Not that I disagree with you on whether citizens should have access, but has this actually ever happened? Not just once (I'm sure it's happened somewhere), but on a regular basis?

It's neat to think that this is possible, but things like "most wanted" lists have been around a long, long time without producing very many tangible results. Trying to do it in real-time is even less likely, even before considering how few people are likely to be listening to police scanners at a given time vs. seeing a most wanted list on the news or at the post office. I don't work in law enforcement, but I get the impression that when criminals are caught, it's usually either good detective work or having their personal information looked up for an unrelated office (i.e. pulled over for speeding six months after robbing the bank).

Bring Back Navajo Code Talkers (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152408)

They sure worked well in World War II: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_talker [wikipedia.org]

In an ironic historical twist, you don't call for the Calvary anymore . . . call for a Navajo Code Talker . . .

Of course, large criminal gangs will also start recruiting native talkers . . . just like criminals pay for information from informants in the police themselves. But this will at least cut out the phone app scanner crowd . . .

. . . until someone writes an app to translate Navajo in real-time.

Which protocols? Which algorithms? (1)

anarcat (306985) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152434)

The article doesn't say to which protocols the agencies are switching to. This could be an issue.

As weak the current (clear-text) system sounds like, there is no expectation of privacy, and officers know that. In Montreal at least, when they need to communicate privately, they exchange cell phone numbers and talk over the phone, which is considered more secure (something could be said about that too).

With an encrypted system, the officers will then expect the whole network to be secure and will therefore say a *lot* more on the airwaves. As soon as a radio is stolen or the protocol cracked [slashdot.org], the whole thing will fall apart and then much more information will be revealed.

The more secure the system, the higher the risk.

I like the idea that the current system is transparent, and allow even ham radio operators to communicate with emergency teams in case they need to. This just makes sense. Encrypting everything seems like a bad move, and probably a business scam too.

Local News Police Feed (1)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152438)

When she was working, mom was a journalist. I spent a bit of time in various offices she worked at, and the one thing that they always seemed to have was a police scanner. There really isn't a better way to get up-to-date news about all manner of interesting things. Encrypting those communications will undoubtedly make journalists' jobs a fair bit harder too. Though I suppose that's the least of most newspapers' worries these days...

Around the country?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38152654)

This is a US based website geared towards international readers, it might be handy to not assume everyone is from the US...

"...around the US..." would have been shorter to type even...

HIPPA (4, Interesting)

linuxwrangler (582055) | more than 2 years ago | (#38152680)

I enjoy listening to the local police/fire but have always wondered whether HIPPA does/should cover fire-department dispatches.

Given the encryption and privacy requirements for your doctor/hospital/pharmacist, it's a bit odd to hear the constant stream of "Engine 71 respond to a medical. 1233 Main apartment 12. Attempted suicide. 23 year old female took a bottle of pills. Stage for PD.", "Engine 65, respond to 4321 Center. 34 year-old female having a miscarriage.", "Engine 72 respond for a 76 year old male non-breather. 8765 Harbor Place.", etc.

No name, but age, sex and address which pretty much uniquely identifies the person and which is combined with potentially embarrassing information (drug overdose, drunk, family disturbances, sexual assualts, and the like).

Other info that I'd prefer stay off the air: "Use gate-code 5564 to get in.", "Person is disabled, key is in the fake rock by the chimney"...

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