Project 25 scanner expected in about a year
Uniden America, Fort Worth, TX, expects to manufacture a scanner capable of receiving trunked Project 25 communications within a year or a little longer.
“It’s something we have been working on,” said Jim Cassidy, the company’s product planning manager in charge of scanners and other products.
Cassidy said that listening to communications carried by a public safety trunked radio system doesn’t violate restrictions imposed by federal law, which includes exceptions for public safety communications and for broadcasts intended for public reception.
Aside from many other advantages offered by trunking, some public safety agencies liked the relative privacy offered by trunking before trunk tracking scanners were developed. Conventional scanners cannot automatically follow conversations or working groups as they switch from channel to channel. But news-gathering organizations pressured local and state governments to allow them to purchase trunking transceivers — with the transmitters disabled — to continue monitoring police, fire and emergency medical communications.
Many public safety agencies relish the thought that Project 25’s digital signals once again will give them privacy because current scanners only convert analog signals into intelligible audio. Development of a compatible scanner would overcome the nominal privacy given by Project 25’s digital nature.
The next step for public safety agencies would be to use Project 25’s encrypted mode.
“Once a system is encrypted, it is absolutely illegal to monitor it,” Cassidy said. “But when enough systems go encrypted, news agencies will bring it to the FCC’s attention and say, ‘We can’t deliver the six o’clock news anymore because we can’t hear what’s going on.’ What will drive that to occur is when we release a Project 25 digital scanner.”
Cassidy said that although it is uncertain whether the FCC would act, it seems certain that news agencies will make a case that they have the right to monitor communications systems paid for by taxpayers. He expects news organizations to concede that certain facets of public safety communications should be encrypted, though.
“I have a feeling that’s where the argument will be played out, but not for a couple of years,” he said. “When Uniden produces a Project 25 scanner, many news agencies will need one because many systems are going to Project 25 so quickly. Will public safety agencies choose to spend the money to go encrypted? If they do, all that can be done is to bring it to the FCC’s attention that news agencies will be unable to hear common transmissions that allow them to bring citizens the news.
“The first step toward that day will be taken when Uniden comes to market with a digital scanner,” Cassidy said.