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ARRL General Bulletin ARLB022 (2013)

ARLB022 FCC Dismisses "Encryption" Petition

QST de W1AW  
ARRL Bulletin 22  ARLB022
From ARRL Headquarters  
Newington CT  September 19, 2013
To all radio amateurs 

ARLB022 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.

The September 18 Order can be found in PDF format on the web at,

"[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, 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 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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