The face of our radio scanner hobby is changing at an ever increasing pace with the technology we buy always changing and evolving to stay in line with how the world communicates.
For anybody serious about listening to the emergency services the use of trunking scanners are the only thing that’s going to give you the reception coverage to get all the information. Conventional scanners are still great tools for checking out a wide range of spot frequency and duplex transmissions but do a very poor job with the new trunking radio networks.
Changes in World Security
Encryption is becoming more commonplace especially when new radio systems are introduce and cutting back all the time on the possible amount of radio traffic that can be tapped into. The move towards scrambled communications is easy to understand when we consider the numerous security threats that all countries face.
The most sensitive will always be the first to go (UK police have moved over to the secure TETRA system for example) with non critical transmissions left in the open until someone concludes they may be leaking the wrong information.
The other more subtle danger to radio scanners as a pastime is the availability of encrypted systems generally, many user will share an intelligent trunking radio system and if encryption is made available to one user all the others could easily adopt it without any massive change to their communications infrastructure.
Upgraded Laws for Scanner Use
Except for some obvious frequency exclusions from new scanner products (Cell phone bands) we have had it good lately with certain aspects of scanner use becoming more acceptable all the time. Listening to signals from aircraft has become the most semi legit image of a typical user along with many big events now making public their operating and admin frequencies so the patrons can use scanners to enhance their enjoyment of that event.
Even if individual venue owners allow this sort of scanner use a huge change in the law regarding scanners will force them to stop this practice as they fall in line with local or global laws.
And as we move forward into a more security aware world this is a very real possibility, it will only take one major incident where the use of readily available scanners have played a pivotal role and the standard knee jerk reaction will kill our hobby stone dead.
Its Later Than You Think
If your listening habits consist of a bit of ham radio and some HF utility stations then I would not be overly concerned about any curb in your enjoyment. But if checking out all the latest EMS action floats your boat grab it while you can because things will ultimately change and it wont be the humble scanner hobbyist that causes it.
Updated February 2015
Since this article was written there have been big changes in the USA concerning the access scanner users have to EMS transmissions. The latest area to go encrypted is Toronto and with a huge population the move has dire consequences for the scanner hobby as a whole.