I couldn't help but shake my head when Boston police recently shut down online streams of their police scanners during their hunt for terror suspects related to the Boston marathon bombings.
Police even went so far as to request people not to tweet information they hear on police scanners. And while most Twitter users complied, some began to attack other Twitter users for just providing links to working scanner streams "because they were endangering the lives of officers".
There's a logical fallacy with this thinking. The problem with shutting down online streams of police scanners is that it does nothing to prevent suspects from listening on local radio scanners. Police radio frequencies are well known, and anyone with a cheap handheld scanner can monitor them locally.
Perhaps it's time for police departments to begin using encrypted TAC channels during manhunts, much like the military uses when in a combat zone?
To provide an analogy for those less tech savvy, Boston PD's request is equivalent to shouting a "secret" across a crowded public auditorium, asking everyone in the auditorium not to share said secret, then continue to speak slightly softer and continue to distribute additional secrets. The strangers sitting nearby have no legal obligation not to distribute the information they overheard to the rest of the room.
The only answer to the "auditorium" problem, much like the "radio" problem, is to encrypt your messages, so that even if everyone overhears, they can't understand the secret.
COMSEC isn't something new, and has been around for a very long time. Maybe it's time for civilian police departments to catch up.