(Updated at 10:35 am) A public record application reveals how the Arlington County Police Department warranted changing what the public can hear on police radio channels.
The investigation of the Freedom of Information Act by ARL has now uncovered documents about the change of ministry in March to Encrypt more radio calls. Security concerns were mentioned in the documents, including some related to police reform protests last summer and the rupture of the US Capitol on January 6th.
While the public – including news outlets like ARLnow and local television networks – used to be able to learn more details about an ongoing police incident in Arlington, today in most cases only the first report and basic information from the scene can be heard.
“As soon as a service call has stabilized, it can be moved to an encrypted channel to protect the personal and confidential information of members of the public who interact with law enforcement agencies, as well as for tactical, operational and investigative security reasons,” said the police spokeswoman from Arlington, Ashley Savage in an email.
The authorities drafted a policy and made a memo after one in February Working group focused on police radio traffic, hashed details and the now permanent division Police chief, Charles “Andy” Penn wrote that he was expecting “questions / complaints” about encryption.
The February 23 police memo includes information about why the department encrypted an administrative channel and details that other channels were encrypted as well, including special operations for presidential and dignitary escorts and other special events, a civil unrest unit’s operational channel , a commonly used “talk-around” channel for officers at the scene of an accident to communicate with each other, and an outreach zone channel involving school resource officers.
The authorities shared their argument with a desire to encrypt more channels and put the police in Illinois and Texas heard the hip-hop group NWA’s on their radios Anti-police song – Apparently broadcast by someone with access to a radio that can broadcast on police channels – amid national protests following the May 2020 police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“In the summer of 2020, protests and riots across the country highlighted the growing threat to public safety communications and exposed their loopholes,” an email said. “Factions in Dallas and Chicago targeted these vulnerabilities by playing music over unencrypted radio channels, preventing legitimate use. This type of tactic threatens both public security guards who rely on the radio to communicate with each other and the general public who are in potential danger during an incident. “
An Arlington County document also states that the January 6th deadly riot in the Capitol also involved malicious actors attempting to gain access to police radio systems to cause interference. Further details were not given in the emails received from ARLnow, some of which were edited.
“We also took into account the events of January 6th, when we witnessed bad actors actively trying to gain access to radio systems in order to cause interference,” an email said.
When asked about the alleged police radio incident on January 6, Savage said in an email on Wednesday that they were unaware of this on the ACPD’s own channels. In DC, the Metropolitan Police Department also noted that they were not watching this.
However, ACPD emails identified unspecified incidents where individuals used police broadcasts to cause disruption.
“We have seen numerous cases where individuals caused problems for first responders because they had access to information transmitted through unencrypted channels,” the department said as it drafted its policy. “This includes, but is not limited to, people who come to scenes and interfere with the processing of the call or cause delays.”
According to the authorities, without the additional encryption criminals could have warned of police measures, citizens could arrive at a location before the emergency services and tactics and movements of the law enforcement authorities could be compromised.
Savage said all service calls made, including emergencies such as an armed robbery or a school shooting, will be broadcast on the primary radio channel, which is not encrypted and available for monitoring by the media or the interested public, either via commercially available scanner radios , Online services or smartphone apps.
Savage noted that the department is sharing information about some police incidents through Daily reports, an online Crime map, Arlingtons Open data portal, Press releases and Arlington Alert for emergency notifications in the event of threats to public safety and traffic incidents.
“Recognizing that the circumstances of each incident are unique, officers and supervisors may, at their discretion, conduct an ongoing investigation on a secondary channel to protect the privacy of the parties involved, ensure the integrity of operations and investigations, and prevent unintentional disclosure reduce tactical information, ”said Savage, noting the department’s commitment to transparency.
“While some see encryption of radio channels as a means of restricting public access to government operations, encryption is intended to regulate the timing and flow of information while minimizing the security concerns that citizens, public safety personnel and the community face during an ongoing and flowing process State faced incident, “says a document from the district.
Right to privacy
Arlington officials were aware of the public interest in information about their involvement in a scene as well as privacy concerns.
This included a communications manager from the county public safety and emergency management department who helped draft the policy and had encountered a police encryption debate in Montgomery County, Maryland with Leonzo Williams, a retired Fairfax County Police major , Noticing concerns.
In a joint forum for officials, a California police lieutenant said last December that his state’s Department of Justice is calling for an encryption plan by the end of 2020, citing personal data issues.
In a document, Arlington County also said their previous practices violated personal rights. Data protection rights as required by the National Crime Information Center.
“The most important thing in our discussion is the balance between transparency and the public’s right to information and the individual’s right to privacy and personal safety,” said Arlington County as it drafted its policy. “In the cyber world, the transmission of personal data and / or a person’s address makes them vulnerable.”
Some emails address concerns about interoperability between Arlington’s encrypted channels and other local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies who may not have the encryption keys required to communicate with Arlington officials at a crime scene. Such problems have been worked out thanks to a National Capital Region Interoperable Encryption Plan, which enables communication between authorities using an older encryption standard.
“Several of our alternate channels remain unencrypted to ensure that we can communicate effectively with our regional partners in incidents that require a response between multiple jurisdictions,” it said in an email.
The county admitted that regardless of the new encryption, the information would continue to be subject to public scrutiny.
“While the encryption of communications prevents immediate retrieval by the handset, all radio traffic on the Arlington County system is recorded and can be accessed by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or internal investigation, allowing any media or public inquiry is [is] answered correctly and made the radio recordings available. “