I saw this question stating that it is illegal to encrypt traffic, at least in the US and UK. I also heard that there was recently an attempt to get the FCC to loosen this restriction, but a lot of hams argued against it. Why do Amateur Radio organizations in the United States oppose the relaxation of encryption prohibitions?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ There are a multitude of reasons, but this is, as written, very subjective, requests a laundry list of answers, and invites primarily opinion based answers. Perhaps a rewrite to, "In what ways would allowing encryption on amateur radio bands damage their use?" $\endgroup$
    – Adam Davis
    Oct 24, 2013 at 14:03
  • $\begingroup$ @dcaswell That would be even better. $\endgroup$
    – Adam Davis
    Oct 24, 2013 at 14:10
  • $\begingroup$ @dcaswell that works for me $\endgroup$
    – Dan KD2EE
    Oct 24, 2013 at 14:21

2 Answers 2


The issue came up recently when one amateur radio user petitioned the FCC to permit encrypted communications for emergency operations with the primary goal of complying with HIPAA health privacy laws.

The ARRL urged the denial of this petition, and the FCC subsequently denied the petition. The major points of the ARRL's arguments were:

  • it is ARRL’s considered view there is no factual or legal basis for the assumption that encryption of transmissions…is necessary in order to continue and enhance the utility of Amateur Radio emergency and disaster relief communications
  • The ARRL also turned away Rolph’s assertion that the current prohibition in §97.113 “has impacted the relationship of Amateur Radio volunteers and served agencies and significantly limited the effectiveness of amateurs in supporting emergency communications.” The League said it’s unaware of any evidence that served agencies have been reluctant to utilize Amateur Radio as part of their emergency or disaster relief communications plans because of the encryption restrictions in Part 97.
  • The League characterized as “erroneous” and “unfounded” Rolph’s assumption that encryption of certain information may be required under the provisions of HIPAA — the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
  • Radio amateurs, the ARRL countered, are not “covered entities” under HIPAA, which applies only to health care providers, health plans and health care clearinghouses.
  • there is no expectation of privacy in Amateur Radio communications.
  • There is no evidence that emergency communications has been hampered by this issue, nor that care agencies subject to HIPAA have been reluctant or unwilling to utilize Amateur Radio services in emergency communication and disaster planning
  • Adding the duty to encrypt certain transmissions to emergency communications workers would increase their workload.

They did suggest that this need not be a permanent ruling, "However, the ARRL said that should it become necessary in the future for radio amateurs to protect the privacy of individuals whose medical data may be transmitted by Amateur Radio during or after an emergency or disaster, “the Commission may be asked to revisit this matter.”


So as another take on it, you can engage in the thought experiment of "what happens if encryption is legal". Let's say you're a taxi operator and you want to dispatch via radio. Well usually you'd need a commercial license to do this, since amateur radio is strictly non-commercial. But if you can encrypt your traffic, who's to say it's commercial or not? You'd save a few bucks in the process, but that's not the point of the service.

The FCC doesn't have the resources to keep an eye on the amateur service. They rely mostly on self-policing, and it works fine. But that would be impossible if the traffic was encrypted - you wouldn't be able to tell the taxi service from two buddies talking about the game.

Finally, ham radio is "supposed" to be public, experimental, academic, etc. Anybody can homebrew a rig or antenna and send more-or-less any signal they want subject to the rules - but anybody else can hook their rig up to their computer and decode it, or maybe even send it themselves. Everybody has the chance to learn from everyone else, and encryption would take that away.


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