Sunday, June 3, 2012
Dead Air – Tuned Out
The entire Fraser Valley will be blacked out soon
nbeknownst to the majority of people in Chilliwack, the RCMP and emergency services are getting ready to drop off the public airwaves and move to encrypted digital radio frequencies.
This means that scanner radios, which currently pick up police and emergency services chatter, will be rendered useless once the digital system that encrypts signals is up and running.
Paramedics are already gone, and it's just a matter of time until the RCMP follow suit. It's unclear when that move will be made, but we can assume it won't be long because the communication tower has already been erected. There's no word on if and when the City of Chilliwack Fire Department will move to digital.
Digitizing communications will put the entire Fraser Valley, including Chilliwack and Hope in the dark as far as knowing what police, fire and ambulance are doing.
Scanners are invaluable tools in reporting and getting the news, traffic and road conditions, and information like missing child alerts out to the community. Extra eyes on the street are always helpful. For instance, if a person living near the business sector hears a report of a smash and grab and the criminal runs past their home, they can direct the police.
Police argue that by going to digital, people's privacy is protected, and that criminals will lose the ability to monitor the their movements. Having said that, if someone uses a scanner with criminal intent, the police charge them.
Police typically use TAC (tactical) channels for clandestine operations and have always had the ability to encrypt their transmissions. Sensitive information is shared on cellular phones now.
Some argue that this moves us closer to a police state where the community is completely shut out. People say they want transparency and accountability. They say that the police, fire and ambulance, who are on the public payroll, have nothing to hide from the public and they simply want to know what's going on with crime in the community.
Moving to digital radios creates and an atmosphere for information wars and nurtures environments where pay-for-info situations could flourish, such as recently when a bribery scandal involving the Rupert Murdoch newspaper group in the United Kingdom was exposed.
The public will suffer with sporadically reported and fragmented news. Third hand news and news based on buddy-buddy relationships, instead of first hand reporting. An example of this would be media types hooked up with local emergency service people who will feed them information.
The public relies heavily on the reporting media to cover their news unfettered and there's no reason why reporters and media outlets shouldn't be able to continue business as usual, or be left out of the digital equation. This is of course assuming that the public doesn't want a police force shrouded in mystery.
That would be clearly standing in the way of democracy and jeopardizing the public's right of access to information.
I haven't the heart to tell my 75-year-old neighbour that she's being tuned-out after having been tuned-in for the last 25 years.
The RCMP have not yet commented on the Voice's request about being issued a digital scanner.
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