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

Encryption is a good thing.

Graham Cluley
Graham Cluley
@[email protected]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

8 comments on “Colorado police encrypt *all* their radio communications, frustrating journalists”

  1. Gene Foster

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

    1. Patrick · in reply to Gene Foster

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

  2. Ian B

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

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

  3. Etaoin Shrdlu

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

  4. SteveP

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

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

  5. tex

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

    And hillary still isn't in prison for it.

  6. Ken Mayer

    Absolutely ridiculous argument….the police aren't encrypting only their sensitive or special information, which would certainly be reasonable…..they are insisting on encrypting EVERYTHING they communicate…..from a 100-person organized crime takedown to the rescue of a neighborhood cat caught in a tree. This is way too secretive for a government agency that we have given authoritative power to.

    You defeat your own argument….you even state that "Too many instances where security services and intelligence agencies have…..broken the law to illegally collect vast amounts of personal data without proper oversight or the public even being aware of what was going on."

    How about "Too many instances where security services and intelligence agencies AND POLICE DEPARTMENTS have…broken the law….without proper oversight or the public even being aware of what was going on" because all the police's communications were kept HIDDEN from the public.

    As a conservative I support law enforcement BIG TIME but by the same token as a conservative I support strong checks and balances on the accountability of our public servants to prevent abuses of power. It seems to me in an era of more police accountability being demanded (including widespread use of body cams), demanding to now hide away ALL police communications is a shady move that reduces accountability to the public and invites too much opportunity for abuse. We the people should not allow this in those who derive their power by our consent.

  7. HarveyMushman

    They are doing this so they can manipulate crime statistics. The City of Santa Monica California spent 2 million dollars of taxpayer money so tourists and residents don't realize how bad crime has gotten there.. You never see crime stories about Santa Monica crime on local Los Angeles news sources because it's being hidden…

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