The public should be able to tune in to their local police and other public entities hard at work for the betterment of the community and the agencies involved. That was the mantra in the late 90s when the various predecessors of the openness.org domain were most active, chiefly under the auspice of the “Calling All Citizens” campaign.
After 9/11 any case for openness over the airwaves, and especially anything with respect to law enforcement, was dwarfed by the overriding fear and need for greater operational security in all facets of life lest the “terrorists win”.
I won’t say that the 9/11 reasons were the exclusive reason for my lapse of pursuit in this matter since about then, but going against the grain on top of going against the grain as I was before that terrible day, was a big factor. The idea that people should be allowed and even encouraged to listen to police calls over police scanners was a crazy enough sentiment when things were relatively peaceful; it was outright lunacy in the comic book world of terrorists and the epic war between good and evil where evil doers might be insidiously creative. Who could dissuade the image of Osama Bin Laden hunched over his Uniden Bearcat police scanner soaking up all the latest intel for his next big attack? Not this kid.
To put in bluntly the merits of open public safety broadcasting appeared appeared finished. I stopped tending to the website, stopped feeding the listserv, and pretty much left the cause to stand or die as it might of its own absolute accord. Even though I inertly understood the “rightness” of the novel arguments I decided to let the natural course of events take the issue where it may. As such I anticipated that we’d never hear the case for open public safety broadcasting ever again all by complete democratic choice of the world.
So. Imagine my surprise these many years later, then, where that natural road has not winded the issue away forever down some dark back wood ditch after all. In fact, the road, as it were, transformed into an avenue, then a boulevard, then into a highway of traffic leading to the largest cities of our contemporary social attention.
It was not a cause to die after all. It was just the opposite. These are the things among others that are different today that have magnified the importance of public safety transparency rather than diminished it:
- The rise of social media and how information is shared between people
- An increase in distrust between the public and police
- The deployment of body cameras
- The availability of online databases
- Government/corporate invasion of privacy
- Snowden, Wikileaks, and all that
In my postings here I will synthesize these factors and explain how they have come to impact the matter and how an open radio culture among public safety can be a positive force in turning back the black paranoia that is steadily eroding us.
But for now, with this entry and this relaunch of openness.org, I wish only to reset the cursor. I wish to remind everyone that the ability for people to tune into their local police was the starting point of American public safety radio technology. It was outright useful at one point, then largely hobby-based, then a bit technical and beyond the range of average individuals. But it was always possible. Tuning in is the default nature of the unique American predisposition toward openness and its people’s relationship with government at all levels. It is the odd man that chooses to discourage and lock the public out, not the other way around.
Encryption of public safety systems is not a given -- it’s a question. And moving forward this blog will aggravate that question in hopes of turning the tide away from it and forcing the debate over public access policies.