State Police Radio Encryption Bill Dies in Committee | New


A proposal to force California law enforcement to find alternatives to fully encrypting radio communications failed Thursday morning when the state Assembly Appropriations Committee refused to advance the bill for a full vote of the Assembly.

By agreeing to “hold the bill”, the powerful committee effectively killed SB 1000 for that year. State Sen. Josh Becker’s legislation had been approved by the state Senate in May and was in its penultimate stage in the state Assembly on Thursday when it became one of dozens of bills from the committee’s “waiting file” that have not moved forward.

Becker, D-Menlo Park, said in an interview after the vote that he plans to bring the bill back next year. He said many supporters of the bill, including media organizations and non-profit groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, became aware of the encryption problem fairly recently and that there was a flurry of activity at the end of the legislative process.

“I like to think we can continue our momentum next year,” he said. “I plan to bring him back.”

The legislation was a response to a recent decision by more than 120 law enforcement agencies to fully encrypt radio communications, a move that blocked the ability of the media and general public to track police activity inside using a scanner. The SB 1000 gave agencies until January 2024 to find alternatives, whether by decrypting or creating a way to distribute communications online.

Police departments across the state moved to encryption after the state Department of Justice issued a directive in October 2020 requiring them to fully encrypt or adopt policies that would protect personally identifiable information and lockers justice of the people they meet. Palo Alto, Mountain View, and the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office were among the agencies that opted for full encryption.

The SB 1000 faced opposition from the California State Sheriffs’ Association, which argued that switching to unencrypted communications would place “a” significant burden on agencies that have incurred huge expenses to obtain new technologies or who have already encrypted their communications. also concluded that some state agencies, including California State University and California State Parks, would have to spend more than $10 million to comply with the bill’s requirements.

Despite claims by opponents of the bill about high compliance costs, some agencies have had no problem complying with the DOJ mandate without breaking the bank. Last week, Palo Alto announced that it would soon be decrypting its main channel and adopting privacy policies. Under the policy, officers would have three options when transmitting this information: use a cell phone, split the individual components of personally identifiable information, or transmit only a person’s driver’s license by radio.

Newly appointed police chief Andrew Binder told the council on Monday that the change would not entail significant costs. He noted, however, that other agencies may face different challenges and cost constraints than Palo Alto.

“Because of the really impressive and fantastic system that the Silicon Valley Regional Interoperability Authority put in place years ago, because we had equipment, and because the department had the foresight not to getting rid of the unencrypted channel, it really alleviated the amount of money we had to spend so far,” Binder said, referring to the countywide system responsible for ensuring seamless communication between emergency responders from different agencies “Realizing that Palo Alto may be unique among other agencies that may have other barriers.”

Becker had argued in previous hearings on the bill that SB 1000 would not impact law enforcement fiscally or operationally. It includes provisions for encrypted communications for tactical operations, undercover operations, and other communications that may put officers or the public at risk if broadcast through an unencrypted channel. SB 1000, he argued, is necessary to ensure transparency.

Becker told this news agency that the cost argument was in many ways a “red herring” and misleading. The bill, he noted, offers various low-cost or no-cost ways for the organization to comply.

“I think the fundamental premise is pretty clear,” Becker said. “As Palo Alto has shown, this is a civil rights issue. This is a First Amendment issue. We can provide access and protect people’s information. We have to do both.

“Now is not the time to diminish transparency in police communication.”

In a statement he tweeted after the vote, Becker said the legislature “missed an opportunity to provide police transparency and accountability.”

“Without this fix, many agencies will continue to encrypt vital radio communications, cutting off nearly 90 years of public and press access to critical public safety information,” Becker said on Twitter. “I will continue to fight to restore access.”


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