Encryption and HAM Radio

At this moment encryption is a big no-no on ham radio bands. Rightfully so, if I may add. This is a hobby, encryption serves no purpose. Recent messages on QRZ.COM and the ARRL website however indicate that certain communications during rescue operations (think ‘sensitive’ information here) could warrant/require encryption. I wonder who will be the judge of that…

The FCC is inviting public comments on a proposal from a Massachusetts ham to amend the Part 97 Amateur Service rules to permit the encryption of certain amateur communications during emergency operations or related training exercises. On June 7 the FCC accepted for filing a Petition for Rulemaking (RM-11699) from Don Rolph, AB1PH, and put it on public notice. It will remain open for comment until July 7. Rolph, of E Walpole, petitioned the Commission in March to suggest an additional exception to §97.113, which currently prohibits “messages encoded for the purpose of obscuring their meaning.”

encryptionI think it’s a typical USA thing. I can’t remember any situation here when ham radio operators played a role during rescue operations. The last time, I think, was during the North Sea flood in 1953. In Europe allowing citizens to use encryption would be unthinkable anyway. The governments here like to listen in, while making sure citizens can’t listen in to them. That’s the way it is nowadays. Politics, I know, but important to know.

Another interesting post on this subject comes from Bob K0NR:

… but I am also worried about opening the door to significant use of encryption on the ham bands. The problem with encrypted messages is that…wait for it…you can’t decode the messages. So how do we maintain that self-policing thing? The fear seems to be that if we open the door at all to encryption, it will enable virtually anyone (amateur license or not) to transmit encrypted messages for unknown and inappropriate purposes.

My opinion, for what it’s worth: I still think it serves no purpose and opens the door to abuse. The last thing you should worry about during a disaster is how many people can listen in. Your listeners could even save the day by helping out with expertise you’re looking for.

8 comments on “Encryption and HAM Radio

  1. we have nothing to hide from the general public.there is NO need for encryption. we do not want it,do not need it. it would be a violation of our rights. i have to doubt the sanity of these people who even suggest doing so! think about it!! wd4joq

  2. this is moot seeing as D-Star is legal in US
    D-star is de facto encryption, try decoding it without ICom/DVSI hardware.
    So far France had a good idea and banned it.

    • Agree completely with D-Star. Part 97 rules forbid it though. But the contention regards D-Star is just that you can buy an Icom radio and be done with it. But what if I dislike Icom as a general rule? I’m screwed.

    • France allowed D-star in this time becouse D-star is open system… “coding” is only used modulation…like PSK,packet,CW etc… only one digital mode that can be decoded without special equipment (only brain 🙂 ) is CW, for antoher type of digital mods must have special equiplemt… (PC etc…)

  3. I agree with the encryption ban, EXCEPT for the purposes of authentication.

    It is currently quite simple to put anyone else’s callsign into a digital radio (e.g. packet) and mess around. It would be very handy if you could supply a password to authenticate yourself to the network, to be included in future digital modes. This would make the self-policing a bit easier because you can trust people to be who they say they are. With voice abuse is much easier to identify, because you can never fake someone’s voice perfectly but with digital modes it is harder. But without encryption this is useless of course, as the password could then be decoded. So for the authentication handshake only, I’d like to see an exception made to the ban.

    I don’t really see the need to lift it for emergencies though. If there is a real emergency nobody cares about the intricacies of the license. You just do whatever is necessary. “Nood breekt wet” as we say in Holland 🙂

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  5. GekkePrutser says: “I don’t really see the need to lift it for emergencies though. If there is a real emergency nobody cares about the intricacies of the license.”

    The problem I can cite is, how do you perform “drills”? – how do you invoke practice ‘drills’ under that paradigm?

    Answer: You can’t. No one can (legally) as the rules formally forbid it. And if you can’t drill in the modes you will use you won’t have the training (and the intrinsic methods everyone participating should have) that should be kicking in during actual emergency circumstances.

    I know, this may be a fine point BUT things such as modulation levels, on the air ‘protocol’ to invoke an encryption mode, and then getting the correct ‘keys’ and pass phrases entered into applications and the means to accomplishing all that among possibly widely dispersed individual operators (in the category of “logistics”) WON’T have been practiced nor reliable ‘techniques’ and radio etiquette worked out to do so!

    So, GekkePrutser, your idea may be fine in theory but unworkable in practice …


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