NYC to fully encrypt police radio scanner, preventing journalists and public from listening to live transmissions
New York City is set to fully encrypt its police radio scanner next year, preventing journalists and the public from listening to live transmissions, the New York Post reported.
The New York Police Department will execute a $400 million system upgrade to its radio communications network. Chief of Information Technology Robert Beltran stated that the upgrade will allow the department to encrypt its radio channels by the end of 2024.
The project is raising concerns about transparency, press freedom, and law enforcement accountability.
Supporters of the system encryption upgrade argue that it is necessary to protect law enforcement officers and the personal details of crime victims.
Beltran stated, “The department provides information to reporters many times a day every day. We also have hundreds of digital media officers assigned to precincts that are also updating information on social media in real time.”
He added that the NYPD would not consider providing exemptions to news outlets or journalists to be able to listen in on the communications. The department is weighing the option of providing the public with delayed access to the feed, which, if approved, would not be implemented until after the network is already fully encrypted.
Some New York City politicians are pushing back against the planned upgrade. During a Monday City Council Public Safety Committee oversight hearing, NYC Democratic Councilman Robert Holden said, “We are the media capital of the world. If we just cut off the media to any interest encryption, completely, it would be really counterproductive.”
Todd Maisel, journalist and founder of the NY Media Consortium, argued during the hearing, “It’s not about radio transmissions; it’s whether you trust the NYPD narrative. Do you trust the police to be 100% transparent with the most regressive transparency policy in the history of New York City?”
Committee Chair Kamillah Hanks called for “more clarity” on the impact that blocking the radio communications would have on media outlets.
“I’m sure there will be transparency and reporting bills introduced after rollout,” Hanks said.
The blocked transmissions will also impact the popular Citizen App, which relies on the police scanner to provide residents with real-time information about in-progress incidents in their area.
The app’s CEO, Andrew Frame, told the Post, “We have spent six years building up this network and saving a tremendous amount of lives, and this threatens all of this progress.”
Frame called the move toward encrypted communication “a dangerous step backward.”
Last December, former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) came under fire for moving to block live transmissions of police scanner communications. A number of local news outlets signed an open letter to Lightfoot, calling the new policy “censorship in its purest form.”
The media outlets explained that police scanners are used to inform residents about “everything from traffic congestion to developing threats to public safety.”
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