ARRL

ARRL General Bulletin ARLB016 (2013)

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ARLB016 ARRL Urges Denial of Petition to Permit Encryption of Some
Emergency Communications

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ARRL Bulletin 16  ARLB016
From ARRL Headquarters  
Newington CT  July 9, 2013
To all radio amateurs 

SB QST ARL ARLB016
ARLB016 ARRL Urges Denial of Petition to Permit Encryption of Some
Emergency Communications

The ARRL is calling on the FCC to deny a Petition for Rule Making
(RM-11699) seeking to permit the encryption of certain amateur
communications during emergency operations or related training
exercises. Don Rolph, AB1PH, of E Walpole, Massachusetts, 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."

"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 today 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." The League said it's unaware of any
evidence that served agencies have been reluctant to utilize Amateur
Radio as part of their emergency or disaster relief communications
plans because of the encryption restrictions in Part 97. The Amateur
Service rule is based on a similar prohibition in international
telecommunication law, the ARRL noted.

The League characterized as "erroneous" and "unfounded" Rolph's
assumption that encryption of certain information may be required
under the provisions of HIPAA - the Health Insurance Portability and
Accountability Act. "This mistaken assumption leads to the
conclusion that the inability of Amateur Radio operators to encrypt
the content of their transmissions in order to obscure the meaning
of the transmissions renders Amateur Radio less (and decreasingly)
useful to served agencies than it would be if encryption of those
transmissions was permitted," the ARRL said. The League also said it
was unaware of any instance in which state statutes have been cited
by any served agency or group as a reason not to employ Amateur
Radio for emergency communication.

Radio amateurs, the ARRL countered, are not "covered entities" under
HIPAA, which applies only to health care providers, health plans and
health care clearinghouses. And, the League added, there is no
expectation of privacy in Amateur Radio communications.

The ARRL said it's not possible to determine the validity of the
claim "that health care agencies subject to HIPAA are or might be
unwilling or reluctant to utilize Amateur Radio in emergency
communications and disaster relief planning" because of any lack of
privacy inherent in Amateur Radio. "Permitting encryption might
remedy the concern as a practical matter, if the concern exists,"
the League continued, but "the complete dearth of even anecdotal
evidence of the existence of that concern" makes it impossible to
justify the proposed rule change on that basis.

"It is extremely important to insure that Amateur Radio remains
useful to served disaster relief and emergency communications
agencies, which include health care facilities," the League
stressed. "It is just as important to insure that regulatory
impediments to that volunteer work be minimized to the extent
consistent with the nature of the Amateur Radio Service." Amateur
Radio's utility to served agencies in supporting emergency
communication, the ARRL continued, "is high indeed, and is at the
present time unfettered by the inability to encrypt transmissions."

However, the ARRL 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."

"It is urgent that Amateur Radio continue to be an essential
component of disaster and emergency communications planning," and
that served agencies, including medical facilities, perceive the
utility of Amateur Radio as unhindered by regulations that prohibit
encryption, the League emphasized.

More than 200 comments were filed on RM-11699, most of them tending
to support the ARRL's arguments.
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