As some police departments decide to encrypt police transmissions, there is an ongoing debate about the positive and negatives of this kind of decision. The arguments around encrypted law enforcement communications assume that encryption is inherently at odds with efficiency and transparency – which it is, when there isn’t a way to record those communications or when it requires bulky equipment. But here’s the thing: when encrypted communications are documented and easy to use, they actually work hand in hand with efficiency and transparency. Let’s take a look.
The nitty-gritty: There are a lot of positives to encrypting police transmissions – something several law enforcement departments across the country departments are opting for these days. Encrypted communications can protect valuable information from criminals who might listen to unencrypted transmissions and anticipate the police’s next move. It also protects personal information about suspects, victims, callers and witnesses that are sometimes relayed over these communications. Many other law enforcement departments and the communities they serve are concerned about the impact encrypting communications could have on transparency and efficiency. Encrypted communications, they argue, could make it more difficult to hold law enforcement accountable and make it harder for rapid communication between law enforcement and external agencies during an emergency.
Encrypted Communications Works for Law Enforcement—If and When They’re Documented
The concern around encryption and transparency rests on the assumption that encrypting communications means those communications would not be available to the public. In a world where popular encrypted communication tools like Signal protect conversations but also make it difficult to leave a digital paper trail, this is a valid concern. How do you make sure that important – and at times life-saving – information remains protected and private while still ensuring that law enforcement actions are recorded?
The answer? By using encrypted communication tools that can securely document any communications. Law enforcement could benefit from encrypted communication platforms that save copies of all communications around public safety information and response coordination so that they can easily and quickly release them to the public. Using an encrypted communication platform that saves a copy of all communications is the best of both worlds: it shows communities that law enforcement prioritizes their safety and privacy while also recognizing the importance of transparency and building trust between law enforcement and local communities.
Encryption Can Actually Make Law Enforcement Communication More Efficient
Another cause for concern about encrypting communications rests on the assumption that using encryption means sacrificing efficiency, because police departments might opt for tools or infrastructure that external agencies don’t have access to, making it harder for them to rapidly reach out to police during an emergency. With the right tools, encryption doesn’t have to be bulky or limiting – a simple, intuitive encrypted communication platform that can be used on any phone, PC or tablet makes it easy for anyone to share critical information rapidly. In fact, these tools can actually increase efficiency when they let users broadcast messages or automate important information.
Encryption Doesn’t Mean You Have to Sacrifice Efficiency or Accountability
Using technology like encryption shouldn’t be about tradeoffs – in the case of law enforcement, you don’t need to assume that opting for encryption means sacrificing efficiency or accountability. Instead, using technology like encryption is about figuring out how to make it work for you. You don’t have to stop at encryption, you can make sure to use it alongside documentation and with standard tools you already have access to – like smartphones. You don’t have to decide which is more important –privacy or transparency – you just have to understand what the right tools are to achieve your goals and how you can best leverage those tools.