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Rules Change Sought to Permit Encryption of Sensitive Emergency Communications


The FCC is inviting public comments on a proposal from a Massachusetts ham to amend the Part 97 Amateur Service rules to permit the encryption of certain amateur communications during emergency operations or related training exercises. On June 7 the FCC accepted for filing a Petition for Rulemaking (RM-11699) from Don Rolph, AB1PH, and put it on public notice. It will remain open for comment until July 7. Rolph, of E Walpole, petitioned the Commission in March to suggest an additional exception to §97.113, which currently prohibits “messages encoded for the purpose of obscuring their meaning.”

“As such, encryption cannot be effectively supported by the Amateur Service,” Rolph told the FCC in his PRM, “and this restriction has impacted the relationship of Amateur Radio volunteers and served agencies and significantly limited the effectiveness of amateurs in supporting emergency communications.” He pointed out that Part 97 already relaxes its encryption prohibitions with respect to satellite control link communications and model craft radio control.

Rolph cited rules already in place in Australia as a possible model for amending the rules in the US. The Australian Amateur Radio rules provide an exception for “intercommunications when participating in emergency services operations or related training exercises.” He suggested modifying Part 97 “to capture the intent of the Australian regulations” to relieve what he called “this impediment of Amateur Radio support of emergency communications.”

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.”

Commenters may use the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) to comment on RM-11699 online.




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