Monday, November 21, 2011

Police are encrypting scanners; journalists say the move prevents coverage of developing news

The days of reporters relying on police-radio scanners for early tips on breaking stories may come to an end as police around the country move to encrypt radio communications. Departments say the measure will prevent criminals from listening in and evading capture, but journalists say "open communications ensure that the public receives information as quickly as possible that can be vital to their safety," The Associated Press reports. (Kentucky New Era photo)

Police are responding to new technology that allows scanning by smart phones. Officers in Washington, D.C., the most recent department to start encryption, provide two instances of criminals getting away because they were scanning. Journalists say departments have the ability to encrypt sensitive communications and shouldn't shut out the news media, which rely on scanners to learn of developing crimes and threats to public safety. Scanner hobbyists have followed police activity from their homes for years and oppose encryption saying it makes government less transparent.

Some departments have tried to compromise with media outlets by leasing them radios and increasing efforts to update developing stories through Facebook, Twitter and email. Journalists have thus far been able to bypass encryption in D.C., AP reports, and the news director of local station WTTG-Fox 5 defended the media's right to hear police communication: "It is our jobs to inform the public in times of emergency." (Read more)

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