Toronto Police roll out encrypted radios

Some fear encryption will make communication with police less transparent

Early this month Toronto Police Services rolled out newly encrypted radios that will prevent the public and media from listening.

“We know there are criminals who listen to our movements,” police spokesperson Mark Pugash said. “We don’t think it’s right to give criminals any opportunity to hear about what we’re doing.”

Historically, noise was added over voice signals to prevent people from listening in on the conversation. With today’s encrypted radios, voices are scrambled so only certain devices can make sense of the noise.

Pugash said that the force decided to encrypt their radios because of security and privacy reasons.

“People are very concerned about privacy and personal information. In fact, in the last couple of weeks, a number of hospitals came under criticism because they didn’t protect Rob Ford’s medical records.” he said.

Some media persons were concerned over the possible decline in transparency of the Toronto Police.

“I’m surprised it hadn’t happened sooner,” said Jeffrey Dvorkin, University of Toronto journalism professor. “Because with the increased scrutiny of how the police act, especially with minorities, the pressure is on to find ways in which the police are less accountable to the public.”

Several police forces in the province, including York Regional Police and Durham Regional Police, have already encrypted their radios.

“Considering the police are publicly funded civic institutions, I think they have an obligation not to be hiding what they’re doing from the public,” Dvorkin said.

The police are not the only ones dealing with surveillance and encryption technology. The Globe and Mail recently adopted technology that would protect whistleblowers to provide them with a safe channel of communication.

“The media has a job to do and it’s to cover whatever the media is interested in. What it does not include is the ability to eavesdrop on what we’re doing because that’s what it is,” Pugash said. “Anybody who suggests that it has anything to do with transparency, I believe, is wrong.”

Pugash said Toronto Police are currently setting up a system where they can supply as much information as they can, given the restrictions that they’re working under.