For agents, consumer messaging apps are insecure and illegal
By Jeff Halstead, co-founder and president of Evertel
Mobile technology has had a huge impact on various industries around the world, including our own law enforcement industry. Today, 72% of first responders use a mobile device while on duty, much higher usage than the land mobile radios (LMRs) that were the former precedent for officer communications. This high usage is largely related to the multitude of messaging apps available to citizens that those in the public sector have also started using to interact with their peers.
However, despite the availability and user-friendliness of these platforms, their use by police and first responders poses significant workplace and legal risks. Additionally, an overwhelming number of public safety employees use consumer apps, as well as texting, for work-related communications – breaking the law by doing so, without realizing it.
Read further below to learn about the risks these apps pose to law enforcement and why it’s important to stop using them immediately to avoid communication blackouts, intelligence hacks, and legal complications.
Improve cyber risks
With the recent increase in cyber hackers and data breaches, mainstream messaging app developers have been working to improve the security of their platforms and provide encrypted messaging to users. While this is a step forward in improving email security, it does not ensure enough classified information is shared between first responders and government agencies.
Messages sent through public apps are not tracked, opening the possibility of classified information falling into the wrong hands, which has happened on several occasions. The result of this? First responders and their agencies become liable for harms and grievances caused due to mishandling of critical information.
We are also having issues with these apps when it comes to deleted messages. While it is important to share related information in a timely manner, which may mean deleting irrelevant messages, all in-service communications for first responders and their departments must be archived to maintain compliance. This means that agents who delete messages sent through these apps are breaking public records retention laws, which could have significant consequences for them and their agency, which we’ll discuss in more detail below.
Open the door to civil liability
While the ability to delete messages can be handy for ridding chat channels of irrelevant messages or those containing incorrect information, it is a responsibility of law enforcement when it comes to compliance. This ends up violating federal and state public records laws, as well as failing to comply with requests from the Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This lack of compliance can and has repeatedly resulted in legal consequences for agents and their entire agency.
These platforms can have repercussions beyond non-compliance and non-compliance with federal and state laws on public records. As mentioned earlier, these apps can be easily exploited by hackers with a lack of secure and restricted messages. Sensitive information can easily get into the hands of individuals outside the agency, resulting in further legal action.
Stick to secure and compliant platforms
To avoid increased risks of information loss or message hacking, as well as high potentials for legal complications with a lack of compliance, agencies should make a concerted effort to use only compliant and secure communication platforms. The platforms currently available, whether WhatsApp, GroupMe or Signal, are too risky for agencies to use. Fortunately, other technologies that provide them, as well as instant communication capabilities, are available on the market.
It is now up to agency and department heads to do their homework and find the platform that fits their organization right and allows them to communicate instantly and freely, without fear of consequences. While there are more commonly used tools, which many agents use off duty, they cannot be used on duty and more agents and agencies need to be aware of this fact to avoid complications. related to the use of these insecure tools, non-compliant and illegal platforms.
About the Author:
Jeff Halstead has dedicated nearly 30 years of service to law enforcement and corresponding local communities. For more than two decades, Halstead worked for the Phoenix Police Department, leaving as a commander to join the Fort Worth Police Department. As Fort Worth Police Chief, he dealt with numerous national and global crisis incidents before retiring in 2015. He then founded and created Evertel, a secure and compliant mobile communications platform. for first responders and government entities, to resolve the communication disparities he witnessed firsthand as a first responder and head of a law enforcement agency.