Cut and paste job from the digitalvoice Yahoo group. Don't shoot the messenger.
EMERGENCY ‐ AMATEUR RADIO NEEDS YOUR HELP NOW!
Please forward this message to other hams. The most current version of this message is at http://hams.com/encryption/
Please use that version.
FCC is currently processing a request for rule-making, RM-11699, that would allow the use of Amateur frequencies in the U.S. for private, digitally-encrypted messages.
Encryption is a potential disaster for us because it defeats the self-policing nature of ham radio. If hams can't decode messages, we can't identify if the communication is appropriate for ham radio or not. A potentially worse problem is that encryption destroys the harmless nature of Amateur radio. For governments around the world to continue to allow Amateur Radio, it must be percieved as harmless. There's no reason for anyone to believe that encrypted communications are harmless. Foreign governments, and maybe even our own, will start to see hams as more of a threat. This is likely to have a chilling effect upon DXpeditions, which are already often viewed suspiciously by the host nations, and perhaps will even lead some countries to take Amateur Radio off of the air or limit our privileges in some way.
The last day for you to submit a comment opposing this is JULY 8, so it's important for you to act now! Please make a short comment in opposition to the proposal at this link, or use this link to upload longer documents.
We have no way of telling if the content of encrypted messages are appropriate for ham radio. While their senders will identify them as emergency communications drills, they could be used for crime, operating a business, downloading pornography, etc. WiFi-like cards are already available for Amateur frequencies, and while hams can build legitimate networks with them, none of their vendors check for a license before selling them to anyone. Legalizing encryption on the air will make abuse of Amateur frequencies provable only after difficult and potentially illegal code-breaking.
A small group has almost succeeded in sneaking this change past the entire ham community. As I write this, they are almost unopposed, with only one comment against their proposal submitted to FCC. We only have less than two weeks to turn that around!
Unfortunately, ARRL isn't helping. On March 9, the ARRL board of directors moved to explore whether they should ask for rule-changes authorizing encryption, see their meeting minutes at paragraph 4.1.3. Before ARRL was scheduled to consider a report on the issue, an individual ham filed a request for rule-making with FCC. ARRL obviously tracks FCC rule-making and the notices of it in the Federal Register, and yet waited until two weeks before the end of the commenting period to announce on their web site that this was going on.
What could be a plausible excuse for using encryption on the Amateur bands? It's HIPAA, a 1996 law that requires that doctors, hospitals and other medical services providers keep patient data secret. And thus, hospitals have become reluctant to use ham communications in emergencies. We effectively broadcast all of the information we communicate, and they're afraid that we'll get them sued by doing so.
Emergency communications are a critical component of the mission of Amateur Radio, and are one of only four purposes that FCC uses to justify the existence of the Amateur Service. It may be that encryption does become critical to support Amateur emergency services. But that time has not yet come. If we are to allow encryption on the air, that should come only after the entire ham community has discussed it throughly and explored all of the options. And yet, nobody's brought this issue before you, before attempting to change the rules behind your back.
The folks who support the encryption proposal are, as far as I can tell, well-meaning. Many of them are involved in emergency communications. But their methods are inappropriate. If they want this change, they must discuss the issue throughly at ham conferences and in our publications. They must allow hams to become educated about the alternatives and before we decide as a community if a rule change is necessary.
What are the alternatives? One is changing HIPAA to remove liability from the doctors and hospitals for disclosure of information in an amateur emergency transmission. Changing laws is not impossible for Amateurs. Through lobbying congress, we have recently been able to cause changes in ITAR 121, a Department of Defense restriction that made it difficult for us to collaborate with other nations in building microsats. That's changing now as a result of lobbying by ham organizations. If hams can get that done, we can reform HIPAA as well.
Another alternative is to leave the rules as they are today. Many emergency organizations have been able to operate without encryption, despite any reservations by the served organizations regarding HIPAA, which has existed since 1996. And many services other than Amateur Radio, including MARS, Land Mobile, and Part 15 can provide encryption without a rule-change, and might be more appropriate venues for this traffic.
If we end up deciding to have encryption on the Amateur bands, we must do so only after developing a system of controls that prevent its abuse. There is no anti-abuse method sugested in the current request for rule making, but I propose this one: Encryption would only be allowed in tests and drills that would be authorized and publicly announced by accredited ARES or RACES organizations. Logging of encrypted transmissions, including the encryption key, would be mandatory. Stations would be required to disclose their keys to amateur volunteers who would check recorded transmissions for rule-violation, but those volunteers would be required to keep any HIPAA-protected patient data within the transmission private. Stations that repeatedly failed to cooperate in allowing their messages to be decrypted and checked by third parties would be subject to penalties.
But we haven't decided any of this yet. And we shouldn't without your participation. Thus, please comment now in opposition of the proposal.
Again, the last day for you to submit a comment opposing this is JULY 8, so it's important for you to act now! Please make a short comment in opposition to the proposal at this link, or use this link to upload longer documents.
About the Author: Bruce Perens K6BP is one of the founders of the Open Source movement in software. He is also the founder of No-Code International, the organization that successfully lobbied for the global elimination of code testing. More recently, Perens has been a pioneer of digital communications over Ham Radio. He started and evangelized the Codec2 (http://codec2.org/
) project, which has developed a fully open and patent-free digital voice codec for Radio Amateurs. That codec is now in use in FreeDV (http://freedv.org/
), which provides clear digital voice communications on HF in half the bandwidth of SSB. You can reach him at +1 510-4PERENS (US Pacific time), or email to bruce at perens dot com.
Please forward this message to other hams. The most current version is at http://hams.com/encryption/
Please use that version.