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FCC Considering Proposal For Encrypted Ham Radio

timothy posted about 10 months ago | from the technocrat-perspective dept.

Communications 371

Bruce Perens writes "FCC is currently processing a request for rule-making, RM-11699 (PDF), that would allow the use of Amateur frequencies in the U.S. for private, digitally-encrypted messages. Encryption is a potential disaster for ham radio because it defeats its self-policing nature. If hams can't decode messages, they can't identify if the communication even belongs on ham radio. A potentially worse problem is that encryption destroys the harmless nature of Amateur radio.There's no reason for governments to believe that encrypted communications are harmless. See hams.com/encryption/ for more information."

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371 comments

packet radio? (1)

i.r.id10t (595143) | about 10 months ago | (#44111397)

So... is it not possible to send/receive encrypted content when using packet radio?

Re:packet radio? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44111429)

Possible vs legal describe two completely different circles on the diagram. In a few places, they even touch.

Re:packet radio? (5, Insightful)

Michael Casavant (2876793) | about 10 months ago | (#44111441)

No, it is illegal to send encrypted content via packet. That makes any kind of web browsing pretty much impossible (Google, for example, does https for everything now...and I wouldn't want my plain-text passwords going all over the place).

Re:packet radio? (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 10 months ago | (#44111497)

What is the logic for making that illegal?

Would it be equally illegal to use codewords to hold a private conversation?

Re:packet radio? (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 10 months ago | (#44111709)

From the summary:

If hams can't decode messages, they can't identify if the communication even belongs on ham radio. A potentially worse problem is that encryption destroys the harmless nature of Amateur radio.There's no reason for governments to believe that encrypted communications are harmless

Re:packet radio? (1)

fche (36607) | about 10 months ago | (#44111743)

Perens is not making a legal claim, so your answer is nonresponsive.

Re:packet radio? (5, Informative)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 10 months ago | (#44111895)

Ok, let me elaborate. The HAM network is almost completely self policed. It would be trivially easy to abuse the spectrum and ruin it for everyone so it's in everyone's best interest that people who don't follow the rules, who are using it for commercial gain for just one example, are reported and stopped. Allowing encrypted traffic would allow me to sell internet service to people in rural areas because there's no way to detect what is in the encrypted content. If something becomes profitable enough eventually you'll choke the spectrum and make it unusable for everyone. Keep in mind that this isn't a managed slice of spectrum, there's no one in charge of who is using what frequency where. Get enough sources broadcasting and it simply won't work.

Re:packet radio? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 10 months ago | (#44112033)

Sounds like they are regulating it incorrectly for 2013 then. Why worry about what, when you can easily control how often. Limit each participant to some amount.

This whole thing has too much legacy cruft it seems like from the outside looking in.

Re:packet radio? (4, Insightful)

chihowa (366380) | about 10 months ago | (#44112049)

Well they already allow proprietary protocols like DSTAR (you can decode the packets and see what's there, but you have to pay a company for the privilege to do so - not quite in the spirit of ham radio).

Why not allow encrypted packets with a cleartext callsign wrapper? Then you can verify the source of the packets and have access to modern uses of the spectrum. Frankly, I think digital modes are more interesting that ragchewing with the oldtimers anyway, and some of the old FCC rules and bandplans are causing amateur radio to seriously stagnate.

Re:packet radio? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 10 months ago | (#44112167)

What is the difference between this DSTAR and encryption then? If I don't pay then it sure sounds like it is obscured to me.

Re:packet radio? (1)

hawguy (1600213) | about 10 months ago | (#44112209)

Well they already allow proprietary protocols like DSTAR (you can decode the packets and see what's there, but you have to pay a company for the privilege to do so - not quite in the spirit of ham radio).

Why not allow encrypted packets with a cleartext callsign wrapper? Then you can verify the source of the packets and have access to modern uses of the spectrum. Frankly, I think digital modes are more interesting that ragchewing with the oldtimers anyway, and some of the old FCC rules and bandplans are causing amateur radio to seriously stagnate.

Because the callsign wrapper doesn't help you find abuse - why would a business pay for an expensive business radio system if they can just issue "cheap" ham radios to their employees and encrypt their data so no one knows they are using it for business?

DSTAR has the same problem (though mitigated because any ham can buy a DSTAR receiver), proprietary codecs shouldn't run on ham bands.

Re:packet radio? (1)

DrXym (126579) | about 10 months ago | (#44112173)

Voice encryption and data encryption are going to behave in different ways. A voice conversation is likely to be one person talking for a few seconds and then the other end and vice versa. Data traffic is likely to be continuous and highly bidirectional in nature with a bias towards the recipient. Anyway I'm sure that the encryption used could have a backdoor key or low entropy so governments could peek in if they wanted while keeping casual snoopers out and increasing the bandwidth capacity by using it more efficiently.

Re:packet radio? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44111967)

What is the logic for making that illegal?

What is the logic in asking a question that's answered in the article?

Re:packet radio? (1)

tilante (2547392) | about 10 months ago | (#44111977)

I can't speak to the logic behind it, but yes, that's equally illegal. The FCC regulations say that anything designed to "obscure the meaning" of communication is prohibited on amateur radio.

It's been generally held, though, that secure authentication is okay - the meaning there is "prove you are who you say you are", "this is my proof", "okay, accepted" (or "sorry, rejected"). As long as it's possible to tell that that's the gist of the communication, obscuring what one would need to know to prove it is okay.

Re:packet radio? (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 10 months ago | (#44111519)

Illegal? Or outside the spec? Do cops kick down your door, or do other ham guys give you a severe frowning?

Re:packet radio? (1)

Deadstick (535032) | about 10 months ago | (#44111675)

In principle, the FCC can take action against your license. In practice, they spend about as much time policing the ham bands as the FBI spends on D. B. Cooper.

Re:packet radio? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44111693)

The FCC gets annoyed, and can fine you or revoke your licence.

Re:packet radio? (0)

Opportunist (166417) | about 10 months ago | (#44111883)

Which is about as likely as a revocation of a broadcasting license for breaking ad limits.

Face it, that law would only codify the fact that people already don't give a shit about the encryption ban.

Re:packet radio? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44111773)

It is illegal, as in: you will face fines and/or possible confiscation of your equipment for using encryption, codewords, or any other method intended to obscure the meaning of your communications. The only exception would be something like a satellite control uplink.

Re:packet radio? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44112075)

Illegal enough that nobody would base their business model on it

Re:packet radio? (1)

DarkOx (621550) | about 10 months ago | (#44111939)

Yes the FCC will absoultly revoke your HAM license, if you make a habit of breaking the rules.

Re:packet radio? (1)

n1ywb (555767) | about 10 months ago | (#44111599)

I've thought about whether encrypting just the password would be legal, and I think you could argue that it is, because the letter of the law refers to the "meaning" of the "messages", and the password has no meaning (beyond the fact that it's a password and encrypting it doesn't obfuscate that meaning) and it isn't really a "message". The origin of the term "message" in the rules comes from radiograms. The reason for the rule is they want ham radio to be self policing and not used for crimes, espionage, etc. Encrypting just a password is certainly in keeping with the spirit, and perhaps the letter of the law.

https on the other hand is obviously a big no-no.

How about listening to streaming internet radio over a ham licensed WAP? Muddle that one.

Re:packet radio? (2)

EmagGeek (574360) | about 10 months ago | (#44111669)

It is also illegal to use Ham Radio for commercial purposes. That makes almost any kind of web browsing pretty much impossible.

Re:packet radio? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 10 months ago | (#44111689)

How is that defined?
If you and I are having a discussion and during it you mention the need for an item that I just happen to have a spare of, can I offer to sell it to you?

Re:packet radio? (1)

Deadstick (535032) | about 10 months ago | (#44111791)

The traditional paradigm in the ham world is: Asking your spouse to get a pizza on the way home: OK. Calling Pizza Hut (which you could do via phone patch) and ordering one: Illegal.

Re:packet radio? (2)

n1ywb (555767) | about 10 months ago | (#44111849)

Actually ordering pizza over ham radio phone patch is fine. The law bans comms in which you have a "pecuniary interest". I.e. you cannot earn money from operating a ham radio. Back in the old days, commercial operators didn't want ham radio ops honing in on their racket. Spending money on a ham radio is fine.

Re:packet radio? (1)

n1ywb (555767) | about 10 months ago | (#44111865)

There's one exception; you can legally arrange a private sale of ham radio equipment over the air.

Re:packet radio? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44111877)

IIRC, you can discuss buying and selling, only if the goods are relevant to the hobby and you don't do it regularly (ie, as a business).

Re:packet radio? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44111463)

Not legally

Re:packet radio? (4, Informative)

Chris Mattern (191822) | about 10 months ago | (#44111473)

Possible, yes. Legal, no. The fact that a large section of Internet traffic cannot be sent legally over packet radio is one of the reasons they want to do this.

Re:packet radio? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44111833)

ummm, this proposal is limited to using encrypted transmissions in emergencies when interacting with emergency response organizations. As first responders move to encrypted digital transmissions Amateurs are limited in their ability to volunteer. This is a key reason why Amateur radio even exists. If we lose our public service mission, the spectrum we have access to will all eventually go to Verizon.

Re:packet radio? (0)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 10 months ago | (#44111881)

So you only want to do the public service so you can continue to keep using this resource for a very limited group of people?

Do you know what that sounds like to the rest of the world? It sounds like we would be better off taking that resource away.

Re:packet radio? (1)

tchuladdiass (174342) | about 10 months ago | (#44112091)

Actually any one can become a member of that "limited" group of people. There is no limit to the number of people that can get their ham license. And they even made it easier in recent years (you don't have to learn Morris Code anymore to get started).

Re:packet radio? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 10 months ago | (#44112145)

How does that change anything?

If this is to be a hobbiest space why not allow more tinkering?

This seems like one group with their own little world view that want to limit how others can use a resource.

hm (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44111435)

Well depends on the type of encryption. I can read off a series of numbers that are a one time pad encrypted message and get the same effect. If they are talking about full on scramble and sounding like white noise (for more bw). Then yeah I could see how that could be an issue.

It's dead either way, why not try this? (5, Insightful)

Myself (57572) | about 10 months ago | (#44111487)

Whenever I try to convert part-15 geeks into part-97 geeks, they're interested in high power, they're interested in DIY equipment, they're interested in satellites, they're interested in propagation, and as soon as I mention that you can't swear or encrypt, they walk away.

"If I can't send useful traffic over it, why would I bother?"

Ham radio is losing a generation of geeks who've grown up on a more-free network and aren't interested in a restricted one. Should we just let them go?

Re:It's dead either way, why not try this? (4, Funny)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 10 months ago | (#44111575)

Or maybe make that network more free. What exactly is the point of this overly restricted network? Seems like a total waste of a resource.

Are you serious you that you can't swear? What exactly constitutes a swear word in ham radio? Are you required to dress up like it is the 30s?

Re:It's dead either way, why not try this? (4, Funny)

Opportunist (166417) | about 10 months ago | (#44111911)

Sir, I must request that you dress according to the occasion. We're not on the internet here, we have standards!

Re:It's dead either way, why not try this? (4, Interesting)

HeckRuler (1369601) | about 10 months ago | (#44112143)

Because it's a limited resource. There's only so much bandwidth on the air. The equipment is made to work within a specific frequency, (because outside of that band, those frequencies are used for other things). Think of it like a river, it's owned by everyone or no-one, with lots of people wanting to use it. It's a natural monopoly. So it's regulated.

A lot of really good uses for the airwaves exist and have their sections defined. One of those sections was set aside for the hobbyists to do with as they please. But they still have to play by the rules, because it's still a public place, using a limited resource, with others' rights you have to respect.

Imagine if your internet connection stopped working whenever someone sent you a packet. You had a single channel for up and down communication, and you didn't have control over when people talked to you. Every time someone sent you an email, your downloads stop. Every time someone pings you, your wabpage stops loading. That's radio. If someone is an asshole, they can barge into your channel and talk over you. If they're malicious they could jam the entire band and DOS everyone.

And yes, officially you can't swear. Just like you can't pirate movies over the Internet. You also can't sing.

Re:It's dead either way, why not try this? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 10 months ago | (#44112197)

I don't see how the need to regulate leads to these regulations. I can swear in public, I likely often do. I understand the need for some regulation, but it seems like a simple limit on how often one can use the resource would be far more valuable than these arbitrary restrictions.

How did you know I could not sing?

Re:It's dead either way, why not try this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44112203)

you have to remember, there could be anyone listening, I got into ham radio at 8 years old. Just keep it family friendly.

Re:It's dead either way, why not try this? (4, Funny)

VAXcat (674775) | about 10 months ago | (#44111609)

Can't swear? You clearly haven't spent much time listening to 20 meters, or, at least in my part of the country, 80 meters. Sailors could learn a thing or two about swearing by listening in....

Re:It's dead either way, why not try this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44111951)

I don't know who is more pretentious, a liberal or Ham operators. Every Ham I've ever met was a pompous a$$.

Re:It's dead either way, why not try this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44111611)

Which more free network are you referring to, the one that the NSA monitors? It'd be much more difficult for the NSA to monitor all ham communications, especially once non-hams start using our frequencies!

Re:It's dead either way, why not try this? (2)

EvilSS (557649) | about 10 months ago | (#44111731)

It'd be much more difficult for the NSA to monitor all ham communications, especially once non-hams start using our frequencies!

Uh, you may want to look into the origin of the NSA. Signals intelligence is their bread and butter and they cut their teeth on intercepting radio communications. I would be surprised if they were not already monitoring all ham communications.

Re:It's dead either way, why not try this? (5, Informative)

n1ywb (555767) | about 10 months ago | (#44111713)

I think I was a ham for about a week before I hear my first on-air cussword. I would advise against dropping the f-bomb but I've never heard of anybody getting in trouble for the occassional mild cuss.

Ham radio is about:
  • Public service
  • Radio technology
  • International goodwill

If you are interested in those things, you will enjoy ham radio, restrictions and all. If you are not interested in those things, see ya.

Re:It's dead either way, why not try this? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 10 months ago | (#44111757)

Why not just remove those restrictions?

From what I can tell most of these folks seem to hate Radio technology, if they could communicate by banging on the transmitter with a rock they would. They like outdated stuff and have very little interest in anything new.

Re:It's dead either way, why not try this? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 10 months ago | (#44112009)

If you are interested in those things, you will enjoy ham radio, restrictions and all. If you are not interested in those things, see ya.

I am not interested in supporting censorship, which is what you're doing when you pay your fees. See ya.

Re:It's dead either way, why not try this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44111803)

Yes. In the 70s and the 80s there was a pretty similar problem with CB guys. An lot of people was blocked by the reglulation, the necessity to use the callsign, the logbook and the other amateur radio amenities.
Some of them became freebanders or pirates, some are still trasmitting between 27.5 and 28 MHz or in HF air bands, some are still using commercial vhf FM repeaters to rag chewing, some still play fart sounds on vhf legal amateur radio repeaters.
People using marine band gear in cities are almost disappeared because GSM phones are way more useful.

Harmless? (2)

intermodal (534361) | about 10 months ago | (#44111523)

Why, in a supposedly free country, is the possibility of something being "harmful" a justification for its being made illegal?

Re:Harmless? (1)

VAXcat (674775) | about 10 months ago | (#44111679)

It goes back to the origins of radio. Originally, it was all amateurs messing arouind. Then, as it became more useful and of interest to companies and governments, amateur radio types were quick to restrict themselves as harmless and non-competitive to these interests, in order to keep from being squashed as nuisances. I think it ought to be more like licensing of pilots - those licensed at the lowest skill levels can't charge for flying and can only fly for personal gain under strict rules. As pilots progress in skill levels, they can perform a wider range of flying for hire. Something similar could be done for radio operations. As it is, it took decades to get legal permission to use a radio link to order a pizza.

Re:Harmless? (1)

intermodal (534361) | about 10 months ago | (#44111753)

Ah, but that only handles the history end of it and the status quo. It doesn't actually justify either one.

Re:Harmless? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44111829)

is the possibility of something being "harmful" a justification for its being made illegal?

Of course it is. There's a legitimate public interest in regulating the fabrication of nuclear weapons, for the threat they pose to our society.

The correct way to ask this how exactly do we define harm or threat ? I think point to point private communication between two people can't be "harmful" by definition. The government may prefer to ban such communication because it can be used to coordinate other harmful activities, but the communication itself is never harmful. In an age were communication is free and ubiquitous it doesn't seem a good trade-off from an utilitarian perspective. You gain very little security from making encrypted communication illegal (competent terrorists will simply break the law), but you lose any chance of opposing a corrupt, totalitarian or overbearing government.

Encrypted morse code (1)

rossdee (243626) | about 10 months ago | (#44111533)

We should sue the Japanese for changing their codes just before Pearl Harbor

Re:Encrypted morse code (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | about 10 months ago | (#44111697)

And even when sending Morse code - is it in a minority language you are communicating or is it encryption?

Re:Encrypted morse code (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 10 months ago | (#44111973)

I'd say as long as there is a publicly accessible "decoder" available AND it can be determined from the message what decoder is to be used (or the information is available at request), it's not encrypted.

Legal statutes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44111535)

So your saying for fear of oppression you will oppress yourselves? There are currently no legal limitations on the use of encryption see http://www.bis.doc.gov/encryption/.

Re:Legal statutes (2)

MouseAT (945758) | about 10 months ago | (#44111633)

There is no restriction on encryption in general. There IS a restriction in the amateur radio licence that states that you cannot encrypt your transmissions made under the terms of the amateur radio licence. I'm not sure what the US equivalent is, but here's the UK terms and conditions: http://licensing.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/spectrum/amateur-radio/guidance-for-licensees/amateur-terms.pdf [ofcom.org.uk] See specifically section 11 (2).

Re:Legal statutes (1)

tilante (2547392) | about 10 months ago | (#44111787)

That's about exporting encryption. It has nothing to do with amateur radio. For that, you need to check out FCC title 47 CFR, part 97. That says that anything that "obscures the meaning" of communication is not allowed unless specifically stated in part 97.

That doesn't mean everything has to be plaintext, though. It's been generally held that secure authentication methods are okay, for example. Thus, you can use challenge-response authentication, public key authentication, or other such things, even though those involve encryption. In such a case, the actual meaning of the communication is: "prove you are who you say you are", followed by "here's my proof".

It'll be interesting to see if the FCC will allow it. I do agree with you, though, that it's foolish to fight against allowing encryption; if the government doesn't want to allow it, they simply won't. It's well established in US law that being able to communicate via amateur radio is not a right - if it were, amateur radio operators wouldn't have to be licensed.

Re:Legal statutes (1)

i.r.id10t (595143) | about 10 months ago | (#44112013)

Just like owning a gun is a right, but in some areas you do have to be licensed. And they are all taxes, some more heavily than others.

Re:Legal statutes (2)

andywest (1722392) | about 10 months ago | (#44111799)

That is a misunderstanding.

Let me shift the bulletin down: The only reason ham radio is allowed to operate anywhere in the world is because the governments of the world (including ours) do not regard it as a threat to them. Encryption is a threat as far as governments are concerned; and legal limitations (or their lack) in this country don't matter, since ham radio is global. If you add encryption to ham radio, then ham radio becomes a threat to governments, too. Then ham radio will become largely banned or restricted, and its enjoyment elsewhere will drop to the point where it is no longer viable as a hobby.

This proposal, requested by a relatively narrow sector of society (hospitals) out of fear of litigation, if it every becomes allowed, will turn and bite hospitals in the collective butt when they face a shrinking pool of licensed radio operators. Any remaining ham radio operators will use ham radio at work, where the employer assumes the legal risk. Otherwise, why bother, when encryption makes ham radio too much trouble.

Re:Legal statutes (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 10 months ago | (#44111971)

Why do you believe this to be the case?

Governments of the world allow the internet and it supports encryption just fine. They also allow phones, which can do the same.

Not going to stop anyone (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44111585)

We can watermark photos and encrypt the watermark data easily enough... we could totally do that with audio, it's easy enough to do ... FFT the audio wave form, replace fa small percentage of the output, encrypt it, and re convert it to frequency domain... and voila you have an encrypted hidden communique over ham radio. All you need is either a recorded conversation to hide your 'real' conversation in... or even better a second person to talk while you hide your packets in that data.

Re:Not going to stop anyone (1)

pipatron (966506) | about 10 months ago | (#44111747)

This still does not make it legal. Like how you can kill someone by hitting him in the head with a wooden stick while wearing rubber gloves, then later burn the stick and the gloves. Voila, no one will ever know.

Harmless (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44111587)

That was idiotic logic, apparently they have never heard of people talking in code.

Re:Harmless (1)

Deadstick (535032) | about 10 months ago | (#44111755)

Ummm, they certainly have. "The pearl is in the river" is just another form of encryption, and just as illegal on the ham bands as AES.

Re:Harmless (2)

Aboroth (1841308) | about 10 months ago | (#44111817)

Ummm, they certainly have. "The pearl is in the river" is just another form of encryption, and just as illegal on the ham bands as AES.

That's an interesting choice of phrase to let your friend know your wife is having her period.

How about adding an exception to HIPAA? (1)

n1ywb (555767) | about 10 months ago | (#44111671)

Seems like it would be a lot more effective to just add an emergency comms exception to HIPAA.

The great thing about ham radio is that we have stacks of old, analog, simple, reliable equipment and we can get a signal through no matter what.

Encryption on the other hand requries fancy radios and fancy computers and while we could probably swing it most of the time, situations could certainly arise where the smoke comes out of the fancy radio or the computer shits it's bits and we're left with an FM 2m rig or SSB HF rig and people are going to die if you don't transmit their medical info.

Anyway I for one could care less if emcomms groups encrypt or encode patient names, although I think we'd all appreciate it if they didn't blanket encrypt all their traffic.

Re:How about adding an exception to HIPAA? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 10 months ago | (#44111723)

Encryption can be done with pen and paper if need be. Ever hear of one time pads?

If we are too the point that this is infeasible your little radio network is not going to be useful for anything.

Re:How about adding an exception to HIPAA? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44112211)

Do you ever suspect that you're a condescending dumbass with a narrow, selfish worldview? The point of HAM radio is the openness, that's not going to be taken away for you.

Re:How about adding an exception to HIPAA? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44111887)

> Encryption on the other hand requries cheap software defined radios and a $20 Arduino

Fixed that for ya.

Re:How about adding an exception to HIPAA? (1)

EmagGeek (574360) | about 10 months ago | (#44111923)

There are already HIPAA exceptions that allow sharing PHI without consent, and a medical emergency falls under the first one below (if it does not have its own already, and I'm fairly certain it must):

Here are three more:

Patient Treatment: A patient's health information can be shared and viewed by different healthcare providers if it is for the purpose of treatment for a patient. An example would be when a patient is referred to a specialist by their primary doctor and the primary doctor gives the specialist a patient's health information to facilitate treatment of the patient.

Payment for Services: The healthcare information of a patient can also be shared with another healthcare organization without complying to the privacy rules of HIPAA if it is for the purpose of payment of services. An example would be when a doctor needs to file information with a patient's health insurance provider for payment of services.

Healthcare Operations: A patient's healthcare information can also be used without consent of the patient for healthcare operations. Various healthcare operations include internal improvement, review of healthcare professionals, healthcare provider and doctor evaluations, training programs and business development. An example of the healthcare operations exemption would be if the doctor's office were doing an internal review of how they handle patients in order to treat patients better and more quickly. The doctor's office would not need to get the consent of a patient to do this type of internal review even if some of the internal review uses the patient's healthcare information for the process.

the problem is it can be commercial (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44111691)

It would be too easy to convert into
a business entity and move away from
a hobby. The only way to prove it's not business
is volume and frequency of transmissions.
Automated systems could completely hog the bands.

Although, I think some simplified encryption should
be enouraged for amateurs to experiment with.

Asinine Logic (1)

EmagGeek (574360) | about 10 months ago | (#44111735)

"Government has no reason to believe you aren't committing a crime, therefore you are under arrest."

Being encrypted in and of itself is not a reason to believe that a message is harmful.

Looks like a pretty narrow exception (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44111775)

After reading the actual letter sent to the FCC, it's pretty clear the requester only wants an exception to the encryption prohibition for certain limited situations. Specifically, when assisting with emergency communications and the information is required to be kept private. (The letter cites hospital patient data and HIPPA privacy requirements as an example.) So, this isn't a blanket "let us encrypt everything" request, nor does it have anything to do with web browsing over packet radio (as suggested in some other comments).

That said, I'm still not sure it's a good idea. It seems like anything that is sufficiently important and/or private as to require encryption should be left to the radio channels for the agency in question (they all have their own frequency allocations, after all). The amateur operators who are helping out can be used to offload the less critical traffic onto the open/unencrypted amateur frequencies. I'm curious to hear from other amateurs with more experience working with the various emergency agencies, though.

Re:Looks like a pretty narrow exception (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44111875)

I agree. There is no reason to militarize Amateur Radio for the benefit of Law Enforcement. They have their own existing encrypted radio networks that work just fine. The petitioner also does not seem to understand what is and is not PHI under HIPAA, nor that HIPAA allows the communication of PHI without written consent if it is necessary to save a life.

If Ham Radio operators want to play LEO Commando, they can join the police force and go through the training. The petitioner certainly seems like that type.

Re:Looks like a pretty narrow exception (1)

psergiu (67614) | about 10 months ago | (#44111943)

If this passes, how will you be able to make the difference between a encrypted HIPPA-Approved hospital communication, a friendly encrypted chat between two drug trafficants or some kids browsing the web using their new "Long-Range-Super-Cripto-WiFi" USB dongles that will be shortly available from selected Shenzen online-shops ?

Re:Looks like a pretty narrow exception (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 10 months ago | (#44111957)

Why would you need to?
How do you do that on the internet or POTS or any of the other networks out there?

SSB radio (1)

vikingpower (768921) | about 10 months ago | (#44111809)

SSB radio already allows this: encrypted telex over short-wave is an originally military means of communication, which - for a few thousand dollars - is also with an amateur's and civilian's reach. With a 1 kW-antenna, your range is more than half the globe, under good conditions ( which last for about 6 hrs / day ).

What an odd thing to say. (2)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 10 months ago | (#44111813)

"There's no reason for governments to believe that encrypted communications are harmless."

There's no reason for private citizens to believe unencrypted communications government can spy on are harmless. Evidence: All of human history, and the reasons behind free speech and right against search and seizure.

Opening up HR to https will save it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44111815)

The worse threat to ham radio is not cussing and https, but to simple lack of amateurs, which in turn will encourage grabs for our "unused" spectrum.

The day I got onto packet and sent an email and in turn got the ham news with a handipacket and an Icom W2A radio from my campsite was the kind of magic I remembered from childhood when powering a crystal radio using only the ground potential drop over a couple of feet from a core-wound antenna. I could listen to radio all night without batteries. through photons that could go through the walls of my room. Magic. Still is.

Dropping the code requirement for Technician benefitted radio, and this change will help as well. 73 ko6eb

Re:Opening up HR to https will save it (1)

havana9 (101033) | about 10 months ago | (#44112149)

The bigger problem is that when I was young i had 20/20 sight and ic were like chocolates with easy to spot soldering leads. Now that I have 4/20 sight without glasses they're only make smd components smaller than poppy seeds, and to solder them you have to use costly soldering irons. I remember also when I listened to BBC Radio 4 using a variable air capacitor tied between the radio an the phone line: now I'm listening to the same radio using the DSL line, that o course makes the capacitor trick unusable. The technology marches on and unfortunately for ham radio, and more for CB may I say, this means that are more interesting things to do for the inclined nerd, and to make interesting things in amateur radio is a lot more difficult today than 20 years a go.

Numbers stations? (1)

pla (258480) | about 10 months ago | (#44111821)

Does anyone seriously not believe the famous numbers stations [wikipedia.org] as already an ultra-low-throughput form of encrypted transmission?

Whether you send the data as electrical bits, RF, carrier pigeons, or a recording of Angelina Jolie saying "zero" and "one" over and over and over really has no relevance to the underlying meaning. Either it already breaks the law, or it doesn't.

Cant stop my Pringles Can ;-) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44111843)

Sending data between me and neighbors works great using pringles cans or old un-used TV Satalites, but it would be great to have another way to send encrypted data from one state to another with out having me to put my data on a thumb drive and encrypt that and then send it by carrier pigeon accross state lines ;-)

Ham radio is the original nerdville (1)

Andover Chick (1859494) | about 10 months ago | (#44111885)

Ah yes, ham radio, the original home to tens of thousands of the original nerds. Starting in the late 19th century it provided a way for obsessive, and sometimes brilliant, nerds a home-brew hobby on an obscure technology (e.g. quartz and schematics) which allowed broad communication with each other. Sad that some new modulation is encroaching upon this pastime.

Man, this would be great for spooks (1)

denis-The-menace (471988) | about 10 months ago | (#44111901)

If you can't tell who or what is transmitted, you can't tell if it's 2 HAMs talking to each other or an agent reporting in to big bro.

On the flip side, they could also not update the laws and just start arresting HAM operators by accusing them of encrypting.
*Try to prove that you were not*

FCC is not considering anything. (5, Informative)

EmagGeek (574360) | about 10 months ago | (#44111965)

This is not a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM). This is simply a petition by a Citizen.

If the FCC decides to consider the petition, it will issue a NPRM and open a comment period. It will THEN consider the petition with the collection of public comments.

Encryption is the way forward (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#44112023)

There's no reason for governments to believe that encrypted communications are harmless.

That's why we must encrypt as much as we can.

If 99% of all communications are encrypted, and 99.9999% of all encrypted communications are harmless, then encryption will lose its magical power to scare governments.

Without encryption, we're sitting targets. And encryption won't be truly safe to use until it's ubiquitous. So there's only one way forward.

It's unfortunate that encryption might cause ham radio to lose the culture of old-fashioned civility that it currently enjoys. But the new norms of atrocious corporate and governmental snooping have spoiled communications for everyone, and encryption is the price we have to pay for the fact that our overlords became so evil.

historical context of licensing in america (2)

nimbius (983462) | about 10 months ago | (#44112113)

Established in 1912, regulation of amateur radio was a result of the U.S. Navy's concern about interference to its stations and its desire to be able to order amateur radio stations off the air in the event of war. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amateur_radio_licensing_in_the_United_States [wikipedia.org]
as most naval communication is encrypted de-facto in the 21st century and often dedicated outside the ham band, the original licensing purpose is rather useless. One could argue in the 50's the radio act served to ensure VHF and UHF television broadcasts and commercial radio would not be interrupted by hobbyists, but the anti-cryptography purposes intended 'do-no-harm' clause smacks of the cold-war.

If hams can't decode messages, they can't identify if the communication even belongs on ham radio. A potentially worse problem is that encryption destroys the harmless nature of Amateur radio.

while hams cannot identify these communications we do regularly hold triangulation contests to see where theyre coming from. The mysterious Yosemite Sam broadcast [wikipedia.org] in the southwest was detected and triangulated by a number of hams during its run with relative success. Again, the "harmless nature" of amateur radio must be re-evaluated in the modern context of the united states government in the 21st century. The NSA warrantlessly spies on us all, we run a torture camp, and execute our own citizens without trial. To continue to enforce anti cryptography in amateur radio is to the benefit of the state, not the amateurs which hold the rights to the airwaves. And if you consider commercial radio as any bellweather for the nature of the radio wave, then its charter to provide a public good is evidence enough the airwaves do in fact belong to the people.
Disclosure: I am a licensed ham operator working toward their general class upgrade.

Relevant rules (1)

Sean Whalen (2903111) | about 10 months ago | (#44112181)

The relevant rule is 97.113(4) Prohibited transmissions [ecfr.gov]:

Music using a phone emission except as specifically provided elsewhere in this section; communications intended to facilitate a criminal act; messages encoded for the purpose of obscuring their meaning, except as otherwise provided herein; obscene or indecent words or language; or false or deceptive messages, signals or identification.

Exceptions are made for remote control (telecommand) of space stations and model craft.

97.211(b) Space telecommand station [ecfr.gov]:

A telecommand station may transmit special codes intended to obscure the meaning of telecommand messages to the station in space operation.

97.215(b) Telecommand of model craft [ecfr.gov]:

The control signals are not considered codes or ciphers intended to obscure the meaning of the communication.

Anyone, licensed or not, is authorized to use any means of radiocommunication to protect life and property.

97.403 Safety of life and protection of property [ecfr.gov]:

No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station of any means of radiocommunication at its disposal to provide essential communication needs in connection with the immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property when normal communication systems are not available.

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