Author: Federal Partnership for Interoperable Communications (FPIC)
Encryption is a complex topic that has generated much discussion in the public safety community. While encryption is critical to certain public safety disciplines and missions, it can also increase the system cost, and impact interoperability and public safety operations. Public safety agencies must determine what type of information should be encrypted and the method of encryption; recognizing that not all public safety communications need to be encrypted. Complicating matters further, encryption algorithms and methods vary and do not always comply with Project 25 (P25) standards. Proprietary non-standards based encryption poses a serious threat to interoperability.
To support public safety; the Federal Partnership for Interoperable Communications (FPIC) Security Working Group (SWG) collaborated with SAFECOM, the National Council for Statewide Interoperability Coordinators (NCSWIC), and other Department of Homeland Security (DHS) entities to develop a series of guidelines, best practices, and considerations for public agencies considering implementation of encrypted communications. The suite of Encryption Materials includes:
- Considerations for Encryption in Public Safety Radio Systems (Paper), provides guidance and questions for decision-makers to consider when assessing the need for encryption. This paper examines the complex issues of why encryption may be needed during critical operations of an urgent or time-sensitive nature.
- Determining the Need for Encryption in Public Safety Radios (Fact Sheet), provides a high-level overview of critical factors public safety agencies and departments should thoroughly discuss and carefully consider before reaching a decision to encrypt their public safety radio systems.
- Best Practices for Encryption in P25 Public Safety Land Mobile Radio Systems (Paper), addresses the complex issue of key management and the importance of common encryption procedures. This paper emphasizes the use of standards-based encryption to ensure interoperability and provides proven methods to enhance encrypted interoperability at all levels of government.
- Developing Methods to Improve Encrypted Interoperability in Public Safety Communications (Fact Sheet), provides a high-level summary of the key facts, issues, and recommendations for encryption procedures at all levels of government.
These documents were developed to support stakeholders throughout the public safety community by providing key concepts and critical factors to consider before implementing encryption. Included are best practices and guidance for public safety agencies to make informed procurement decisions. For any questions about these documents, please contact SAFECOMGovernance@hq.dhs.gov or NCSWICGovernance@hq.dhs.gov.
The FPIC is recognized as a technical advisory group to SAFECOM and the ECPC and works to address technical and operational wireless issues relative to interoperability within the federal emergency communications community, as well as interfaces with state and local agencies. It includes more than 200 federal, state, local, and tribal public safety representatives from over 45 federal agencies, as well as representatives from state, tribal and local entities.