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FCC Dismisses “Encryption” Petition


The FCC has dismissed a Petition for Rulemaking (RM-11699) from a Massachusetts ham, that sought to amend the Part 97 Amateur Service rules to permit the encryption of certain amateur communications during emergency operations or related training exercises. The FCC put the petition filed by Don Rolph, AB1PH, of East Walpole on public notice in June. Rolph requested an additional exception to §97.113, which currently prohibits “messages encoded for the purpose of obscuring their meaning,” but the FCC said in a September 18 Order that it’s not persuaded his petition provides sufficient reasons to support the change.

“[W]e conclude that the record does not support Mr Rolph’s assertion that the prohibition on encrypted amateur communications is impairing the ability of the Amateur Radio community to provide effective support to public safety agencies during emergencies,” the FCC said.

The FCC said it received more than 300 comments on Rolph’s petition, and those opposing the change outnumbered supporters two to one.

In his petition Rolph suggested excepting “intercommunications when participating in emergency services operations or related training exercises which may involve information covered by HIPAA [medical privacy requirements — Ed] or other sensitive data, such as logistical information concerning medical supplies, personnel movement, other relief supplies or any other data designated by Federal authorities managing relief or training efforts.”

The ARRL had called on the FCC to deny Rolph’s petition. “While Mr Rolph has concisely stated his argument, it is ARRL’s considered view that there is no factual or legal basis for the assumption that encryption of transmissions…is necessary in order to continue and enhance the utility of Amateur Radio emergency and disaster relief communications,” the League said in its comments filed July 8 with the FCC.

The ARRL also turned away Rolph’s assertion that the current prohibition in §97.113 “has impacted the relationship of Amateur Radio volunteers and served agencies and significantly limited the effectiveness of amateurs in supporting emergency communications.”

In denying the petition, the FCC concluded, “Thus, while the proposal could advance one purpose of the Amateur Radio Service — value to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications — it would undermine other characteristics and purposes of the service. Therefore, we agree with the comments that say, in various ways, that amending the rules to allow encryption to obscure the meaning of messages transmitted during emergency services operations and related training exercises would not improve or enhance the operation of Amateur Service stations or otherwise be in the public interest.”

In its comments in the proceeding, the ARRL also said that should it become necessary in the future for radio amateurs to protect the privacy of individuals whose medical data may be transmitted by Amateur Radio during or after an emergency or disaster, “the Commission may be asked to revisit this matter.”



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