For maybe 20 years now the site operator of QSL.NET has kept my "Calling All Citizens" and "Openness" campaign alive.
Or at least the ghost of it.
Occasionally when doing modern day searches on artifacts of my campaign I am inevitably led back to his early style website.
The website operator has preserved key content of the old openness.org website (the domain of which I sold to Intel a few years ago - because $$$). The operator has done this outside the somewhat constrained overhead of its other archive as might be found on the wayback machine.
I would add that he seems to have done so perfectly. He seems to have filtered out a lot of my own nonsense of the day and targeted just the meat and potatoes of the matter.
Beyond all that content, the QSL's author appears to have a superior sense of and commitment to indexing. The main landing page contains scores of links to many now-dead, but just as many still-alive, websites and blogs all related to public safety communication and other websites of the period, some of which are devoted to the merits of keeping police and fire calls in the clear.
I don't know if he continues to add and curate his index today but his adherence to the principle of a flat noise-free web that simply provides information and indeed spreads it is just another point of admiration. Even if done accidentally in this era of the commercialized web it's a sobering illustration of the open web's authentic utility.
The website's creator keeps his actual name off the site almost entirely. The one reference to it (which I will not spell out here to respect his apparent sensitivity to being stamped online) is in the form of a picture of a certification he received with his name on it. Aside from that it seems he wants a healthy porch between himself and the rest of the world.
It's long overdue and frankly, not by much in terms of dollars. But whoever you are good sir, thank you for allowing my donation tip.
By Dave for Personal Blog.
In noodling what a group of people roaming the city in search of public safety activity, it is true that I dread getting off my own duff to actually demonstrate it.
But consider that there are countless examples of energized populations that do very similar things -- albeit not for police scanning.
These groups would have some of the qualities, re-formulated a little, of all these:
What I would hope is that the love for a structured communication order and radios, cheap ones, would draw those personalities to begin thinking about forming such groups.
The re-formulation would result in such an operating group looking like a "club", perhaps with a rented headquarter office, meeting place, that is not only a place to administratively maintain the group, but a physical place for members to socialize, organize and host charity events, and so on, and so on. They would be radio-centric ala REACT and GMRS radio groups, be driven to find and report on public safety activity -- safely -- and have the blessing of local public safety who if not outright embracing them, would at least tolerate them (ala Shomrim), understanding the important social work that they accomplish. There would probably always be some degree of chaotic tension but ultimately I feel these groups are a thing I think they would cope along with just fine in the end.
In an enriched area with a strong group like this, the passive consumers who would prefer to just listen to police scanners as they always have, would use police scanners to listen in on the teeming activity of the active ones.
By Dave for for BuffScan.
Encryption if it is an available technology is tough to de-justify. The best justification for not encrypting in American law enforcement is that open broadcasting was part of the original fabric of police radio communication technology.
Early AM radios were capable, indeed marked with tuning guides, to specifically tune into city wide police broadcasts.
You bought a floor radio and it was expected that you would be able to listen in to police calls as easily and directly as you would to Amos N' Andy.
However unintentionally and however wrought by lack of technical sophistication this was possible, it's because of this that open public safety broadcasting has been a fundamental component of policing, reflective of our culture's commitment to individual liberty and our angst against the potential for government tyranny and totalitarianism, for most of time.
There are excellent reasons to not encrypt if you first accept American exceptionalism as a real thing in terms of freedom and liberty.
Any other nation on earth with the technology to encrypt its public safety communication would logically and immediately seek to do so -- assuming affordable. The same cultural consideration we have in the USA simply doesn't exist to such level elsewhere. Even early UK radios probably had the ability to listen in to police calls, but they never had the American spirit that led to us splitting up from them in the first place.
Open public safety communication is one of America's unappreciated birthmarks. It makes little sense to foreign countries who balk at our liberties and independence. I would expect encryption to swell within all other nations, but I would expect the fight to NOT encrypt to roar in the United States.
Like anyone reading this, I am not optimistic. What I have concluded and what I am now promoting is a flat-out balls-to-the-walls replacement for police scanning, which would involve the evolution of a parallel human network of enthusiasts, working journalists, activists, and good people roaming or spotting in their cities and regions, and reporting on public safety drama in a very concentrated and channeled way. These spotters would have their own openly broadcast radio network that would be scannable by regular people everywhere and anywhere.
By Dave for for BuffScan.
I recently acquired the SDS 200 with one of several goals in mind to provide some degree of online broadcasting of the Buffalo City area police scanning activity (understanding of course that there has always been the Broadcastify option -- but I mean in a full GUI context).
That system is now online for your subscribing pleasure.
While I believe "police scanning" needs to be replaced by a human network of radio and digitally connected participants for reasons I'll be covering at the BuffScan blog over time, I believe that the movement will be sourced from those that enjoy police scanning and who understand the importance of its role in keeping our society free and open.
It is important to understand that I operate the online scanner as a direct reflection of personal preference, and (for now), on a shared server with all of my other digital expression projects.
First, this means that those things I find interesting beyond the usual public safety channels are included in the feed. These personal preferences may not jive with everyone's idea of "scanning fun".
For example, my feed might on occasion include things like the airport bus shuttles or random businesses that I'm curious about.
It's important to know why this matters. While I do operate it as a service, it is also in the context that "you're scanning along with David" rather than "you're scanning efficiently".
I like to think that I am efficient of course but may fray at the edges when compared to your specific tastes.
Second, the entire system operates on my personal web server which hosts the gambit of my original online digital expressions. So, in those times that I am maintaining the server or tweaking things (including the radio programming), you'll likely see all of that if you're watching long and consistently enough.
There will be other times where because of this I will need to temporarily stop the YT feed to work on things that might be considered private or related to security.
With those caveats in mind, without going into the boring details of my home infrastructure, I will tell you that the system is resilient. For as long as YouTube allows continuous livestreaming without restriction (which may not be forever), and my heart is beating, this feed is up. You can subscribe and count on it.
Enjoy! And begin thinking how we are going to replace police scanning with a human network.
By Dave for for BuffScan.
I manage my Buffscan content with a bold concept in mind: To restore the cognizance of police and other public safety activity in communities where such agencies have encrypted their radio systems. And, specifically, through the development of some human based "parallel" radio and digital media network operated by enthusiasts and journalists at the chaotic level.
But let me be clear here: Encrypted radio systems are not necessarily the sole motivation behind the development of such networks.
Encrypted radio systems are really just a milestone marker for the degradation wrought by more complex technological advances. Even where agencies do not encrypt their traffic outright, more and more communication occurs "in the dark" by way of mobile data consoles or one-to-one communication over private cellular or near-cellular phone networks.
Pushing successful public access policies with respect to radio traffic would certainly resolve the most convenient vantage point for a curious public -- people could sit back and continue to "just listen" -- but such policies would be, in the bigger picture, limited. People can do better. Cognizance can have a much, much, wider range.
Public access policies where they may be enacted might actually have the affect of slowing down the evolution of my proposals in totality of "the vision".
I haven't given a workable label for this parallel "human based network", but I'm always mulling it. I tend to consider a name for it much like a novelist might for the title of a book they are working on, best given once the story of it all has taken a more concrete form. In essence, at this point I am content to let the story write its own title.
It is interesting to note that here in Buffalo where I find myself geographically, most of anything the typical scanning hobbyist or a member of the working media, isn't actually encrypted. While most of it is all digital, it is all "in the clear", requiring only more expensive police scanners than what might have been required prior to the 2000s.
That being said, we can anticipate that Buffalo public safety will hop on the encryption band wagon as the risk of doing so is always there at every upgrade juncture.
As an example, my birth county of Luzerne Pennsylvania switched on police encryption during just such a casual upgrade only a few weeks ago. In doing so, local officials proactively honored a public access-friendly policy of keeping fire and medical transmissions in the clear, so, that community will at least continue be aware of things that "rise to the level of fire trucks".
But that is not the trend or the rule of compelling temptation, when it comes to agencies that find themselves on the fence. And in any event, it's again, not the full gist of what can be had by an outright replacement for police scanning.
The cause and reason for a human network only begins with the reality of public safety radio encryption, but is much deeper. It is not tolerable that there be a cluster of police lights or police action, unexplained except through the conduits of official police press releases, or profit-driven media, unofficially "deputized" with private backroom access over regular people, of which media workers are just.
By Dave for for BuffScan.
The Luzerne County digital and law-enforcement encrypted public safety radio system is poised to go live on September 28 and I, or, I as WBRAIL, remain intensely focused on this issue for a number of reasons.
First, I was among the first to pick up and loudly run with the controversy of encrypted public safety radio systems way back in the 90s, long before it was "cool" (for lack of a better word) for the topic to bubble up elsewhere, as it would inevitably have to. The media and even local police department coverage of the Luzerne County conversion is a complete manifest of all my concerns and solutions, reincarnated in 2022.
But that's not the only reason since, after all, since then lots of municipalities have gone on to encrypt their communications, or gone in the opposite direction and kept them open. What makes this particular transition special to me is that Luzerne County is my birthplace, and so, naturally, I find it somewhat poetic that the county would embroil itself in the questions I put out there ages ago. I feel bound to the controversy as it exists in my native locality.
Too, is the apparent veracity of people in Luzerne County actually listening to police scanners. People in and around Wilkes-Barre have police scanners sitting atop their fridges running non-stop. Knowing what the police are doing is a culture in and of itself in Luzerne County and it is deeply synthesized. With the mushroom event of social media over the past 15 years, they were quick to integrate what they heard with Facebook Groups, as a leading example.
County Understood Unique Flammability
More than any other place I have experience with as "master of the cause" so to speak, Luzerne County stands out as particularly sensitive to the debate.
Their public relation strategy seems to well acknowledge this sensitivity as is evident with their exceptional outreach ahead of the transistion. While in actuality a rather obscure subject matter, Luzerne County took the time, registered a domain, and set up a web site.
In particular the Wilkes-Barre Township Police Department (not to be confused with Wilkes-Barre City proper) has become the populist de-facto public guide in the matter, taking the extraordinary, and I would add absolutely refreshing, step of actually polling the public via its Facebook Group about what type of outcome people would most appreciate, with regards to a compromise solution.
Their poll showed that people were actually quite reasonable in accepting the compromise of generally open broadcasts with only those channels involving undercover or tactical actions actually encrypted.
Notably, the least popular course of action was to engage in some sort of "official assessment" of "verified news media outlets", and give just them access. Which is to be expected in an era when people are driven to escape mainstream media's focus and narrative in all issues. Rely on the Times Leader for my news? No way. (Sorry to use them as an example, I am still bristling over their capricious censorship.)
In between those two extremes were a number of mitigating ideas which were interesting and demonstrative of an impulse to adopt the new level of control while still feeding Luzerne County's appetite for real-time news.
What ultimately won out, though, was complete encryption of all law enforcement channels. Whether for financial, logistical, or public-appeasing reasons (maybe all of the above), medical and fire broadcasts would remain open. This was not a poll option in Wilkes-Barre Township Police's ask, but in my experience over these decades I find that this is the place many municipalities land naturally.
It's probably worth pointing out that previous reporting on this deployment has alluded that utilizing encryption would be optional among the 48 various police agencies within Luzerne County. Most current reporting whether by factual point or by lack of attention to nuance, seems to suggest that all of them are opting for it.
In my ideal preference nothing is encrypted except what reasonably must be. So, in the poll, I went with the majority. It's an approach that has always been within the scope of my campaign's philosophy. It's law enforcement after all and how could law enforcement even function if everything they said was "open". Few of us could do our own jobs under that kind of broad transparency.
A Huge Red Flag
My biggest suspicion however goes back to that thing about police giving access to "verified news outlets". Despite the overt public stand that Luzerne County law enforcement might be encrypted, and that private citizens will not be allowed to listen in, it will be interesting over time to see if cracks develop and access to encrypted broadcasts to commercial media houses begin to leak.
Will there really be a Times Leader sphere where no radio capable of listening to the encrypted radio traffic exists in the newsroom? Or perhaps squirrled away in the glove compartment of some random reporter's car?
The Times Leaders of the world are really going to try and crack that policy for them. And the reason they will do that is because they have lost value ever since the Internet and, worse, social media, became actual things. The newspaper industry has completely imploded in my lifetime because it lost its grip on both exclusive access to content, and the conduits of conversation.
Remember, the people of Luzerne County bound police scanning and Facebook Groups together, creating an entirely chaotic ecosystem of news and views that left the Times Leader and other news houses "standing aside", irrelevant and kind of obnoxious in their own presumptive role. And since advertisers are only willing to pay for where the attention flows, this means they pay places like Facebook and Twitter, not them.
A decision by county law enforcement to encrypt sets up a situation where the Times Leader can once again beat all the dynamics of free media and re-commodify itself if it can somehow make itself the exception to the rule.
Exclusive access to encrypted Luzerne County communications would restore their advantage to both news gathering and story enrichment. A little friendly dinner here, a little bribe there, a little anything that gets a newspaper's hand on even one of those radios capable of listening to encrypted traffic, is a life-saving potion.
You can absolutely guarantee that old school media houses will try. If some kind of pressure campaign actually succeeds and newspaper and media house people actually acquire the very access being taken away from everyone else, Luzerne County will probably try to keep it all "hush-hush". After all, some asshole in Buffalo might wind up blogging about it and everyone could just wind up looking like a hypocrite.
Such an outcome would be the stuff of "corruption nightmares". It would become a government agency colluding with private community entities to increase someone's profits. And folks, I don't have to remind you that something like that has happened before in Luzerne County.
Well, okay, maybe I can, with just one picture.
By Dave for for WBRAIL.
One of the most bizarre compromises to emerge between public safety officials and open broadcasting advocates in some areas, is the idea of giving designated media houses access to encrypted police communications, but not to what they consider the general public.
While such a compromise somehow feels apt given the supposed professional foundation of the mainstream media and of the people who work within, the premise collapses instantly on the idea that the mainstream media can somehow be trusted more in principle to never sensationalize or to somehow commodify the police radio traffic they maintain privy access to.
Sensationalize and commodify are what they do.
All these types of agreements would likely wind up doing is creating an alignment between government officials and local brokers of the news, with access to the police radio traffic turning into the "currency of compliance" between them. If the local sheriff finds himself bothered by a probe into its practices by a pesky reporter for a newspaper, for example, that sheriff might find it all too easy to "de-classify" said newspaper as a legitimate media outlet, and pull the newspaper's plug. The newspaper would be at a significant disadvantage against its media processing competitors.
There's that, and then, there's the outdated presumption that anyone operating a media center is doing anything exceptional anyway. In 2022 everyone is a journalist, and those we would deem journalists it turns out, are just people. Vulnerable, greedy, and biased.
Giant media houses are just profit-suckers who happen to present a more polished and frequently agitating tweet than your crazy uncle might. Filled with cheap-to-produce superficial insight and biased interpretations and positions which are often designed to invoke ever-profitable conflict, it makes zero sense to make every city and jurisdiction dependent on them for information.
By Dave for for BuffScan.
Public safety radio moving to encrypted systems has left me trying to self-formulate and explain what a replacement for public monitoring looks like. I have yet to articulate an idea well, let alone document it. And, unfortunately, I have to assume that's because I haven't yet imagined or conceptualized a solution well first.
What I do have are a loose array of outlines going in one direction or another, with the idea that most excites me being that of a human-based reporting network. That is to say, I hope that as average people lose the ability to eavesdrop on police or fire radio signals, they will form human networks of radio teams that "patrol and report", spotting on and contributing to local newsfeeds in real-time of various sorts and platforms. Digital tools for that exist today in off-the-shelf social media tools like Twitter and other platforms, as do cheap analog radio backbones such as old-fashioned CB radio.
By Dave for for BuffScan.