Manchester, NH police go dark on radio

The police department of Manchester, NH, has started encrypting routine radio communication. According to a press release, the aims are “to provide an updated radio system, protect the public’s privacy, and protect our officers as they work day in and day out to provide a service for the city of Manchester.” They did this without public discussion and admitted to it only after people noticed.

The first reason is plain nonsense. Getting new radios isn’t a reason to encrypt.

Manchester, NH seal“Protecting the public’s privacy” isn’t much better. If the police conduct a raid or arrest someone, that’s a public matter. Hiding these actions from public knowledge doesn’t protect the privacy of the people hauled off to jail; arrests are on the public record. It protects the cops from public scrutiny.

“Protecting our officers” is the one plausible reason. But protecting them from what? The element of surprise is often useful and can make a raid safer. The police could selectively use an encrypted channel when it’s really necessary, such as when they expect armed resistance. Routinely encrypting all communication “protects” the police from public scrutiny. If their communications demonstrate personal or ethnic animosity or they brag about unnecessary violence, those are things the public should know.

The people of Manchester are expected to trust the cops with broad discretion in the use of armed force. They need to know as much as possible about how they’re using it. By hiding their communications from the public, the Manchester Police have declared they need to “protect” themselves from public visibility.

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