AMSAT Director Election 2019: It’s Time For Change

Please pass this on to other AMSAT members, until September 15, 2019. The canonical version of this document is at

Hi, I’m Bruce Perens K6BP. You might have seen me as the guy in the IBM commercial who says Let’s Champion Data Rights as Human Rights! I am one of the founders of the Open Source movement in software, and an innovator and evangelist for advanced Amateur Radio technology like FreeDV, Codec2, and HT of the Future. I founded No-Code International to end code testing, and still work intensively on Amateur Radio policy today. I’m an AMSAT member and AMSAT President’s Club donor.

AMSAT is absolutely vital to continue the role of Amateur Radio in space, one especially important when we’re seeing the start of a challenge to our 2-meter band allocation internationally. But there are problems with AMSAT: It’s now 15 years since AO-40 went SK. We’ve not done anything nearly so ambitious again in North America, while Europe and Africa now have a geostationary 10 GHz transponder for Amateur use. AMSAT’s current management is hogtied and overly fearful of ITAR while the Open Source community, provider of the cryptography in every web browser back when that was under ITAR, has had that problem solved for decades. And AMSAT can’t support itself with the current member dues.

I’d like you to consider these candidates for the AMSAT board:

  • Howie DeFelice AB2S is Senior Principal Engineer with Intelsat General Communications, where he designs solutions for government. Howie was also one of the creators of 50dollarsat, the first PocketQube satellite, which validated the usefulness of that kind of 1/8U microsatellite.
  • Jeff Johns WE4B is a two-decade satellite operator, involved in elmering young people, and frequently made satellite contacts from his patrol car while he served the public as a deputy sheriff.
  • Brennan Price N4QX was CTO of ARRL, and thus our leader on many technical and regulatory issues. He is now Director of Regulatory Affairs in the Washington, DC, office of Inmarsat.
  • Patrick Stoddard WD9EWK (and VA7EWK) is an AMSAT life member, has been an AMSAT area coordinator, ambassador, board alternate, and other positions in his two decades of service to the organization.
  • Michelle Thompson W5NYV (and follow-up) is an AMSAT life member. She holds an MSEE in Information Theory and is a specialist in error correction, signal processing, and communications theory. She formerly worked for Qualcomm and is now a Distinguished Visitor for IEEE. Michelle is second violin in an orchestra, developer of an AI pipe organ called Organ Donor, and is recipient of the 2018 Don Hilliard award from Microwave Update, for service to and innovations in amateur satellite communications. Somehow she finds time to do that and be a mom of three beautiful children.

Four slots for directors are open this year, and I’ve recommended five people. Please select your favorite four. You can read in the candidate’s statements why there is need for a new board. Most unsettling to me is that there are conduct issues with the current board which make AMSAT no fun to work for, and that’s fatal for a volunteer organization. About 30 of the smartest people I know in Amateur Radio, the names behind some of the biggest projects AMSAT ever did, now either refuse to work for AMSAT or have severely curtailed their activities. Active AMSAT members will be aware of the missing faces. Patrick and Jeff both go into behavior issues of the board in their candidate’s statements. Michelle had to move the Phase 4 Ground Station project out of AMSAT due to the ITAR policy and board conduct issues. She discusses in detail how to solve the problem in these two posts: 1, 2. Howie also believes AMSAT’s ITAR policy must change.

AMSAT has severely limited the candidate’s statements on the ballot this year. The ballot sent to you will only include a tiny 350 words from each candidate, allowing no negative statements about anyone, no URLs, and only one phone number and email. Candidates have been given your postal address to mail to at their own expense, but not your email address. So, it’s important to read the candidate’s unrestricted statements on the web.

Thanks for listening. You can reach me by email to bruce at perens dot com. Please remember to vote as soon as you receive your AMSAT ballot. Ballots will be counted on September 15. Again, my recommendations are:

Bruce Perens K6BP

Yes, It Is Legal To Use Cryptographic Signature on Amateur Radio. And That’s Important!

It seems there is widespread confusion about using cryptographic signature on Amateur Radio. Cryptographic signature is a way to “sign” a message that remains in the clear, authenticating the sender’s identity and that the text of the message is exactly what the sender wrote. Can you use it on the air? The uninformed say “you can’t use cryptography on the air”, but the truth is more nuanced.

Part 97, in several places, prohibits messages encoded for the purpose of obscuring their meaning. This is either using spread spectrum or an undisclosed code. Exceptions are made for satellite control.

Is cryptographic signature obscuring the meaning of the message? NO! It leaves the message text in the clear, and adds authenticating data. Thus, you may use cryptographic signature on the air. The message itself and identity of the sender MUST be clearly readable by everyone.

Yes, there is a secret in cryptographic signature, which is some private key used for either public-key or symmetrical encryption. But nothing in the cryptographic signature conveys that secret. The cryptographic signature is just a number that, when matched with another number, says “someone who knew a particular secret authored this message, with this exact text”. That doesn’t obscure anything.

This is actually REALLY important for modern Amateur radio. With new digital satellites, we will be able to use digital signature to authenticate that all of the users are actually hams, and we’ll be able to keep the non-hams off of the satellite. This is already in development at Open Research Institute, and elsewhere.

Did you know that ARRL is already ready for hams to use digital signature? LOTW is a certification authority! You can extract an X.509 private and public key from your LOTW certificate, load it into your web browser, and authenticate yourself with it to any software that has the ARRL CA certificate loaded. Don’t do that over the air, the HTTPS protocol implemented in browsers definitely obscures the message. But you can use the same certificate to sign a message and leave the message contents in the clear.

Did you know that there is even a registered extension to X.509 for callsigns?

This also gives us a way to control systems over the air without encrypting the control message, and without allowing unauthorized persons to control those same systems. Wouldn’t you like to use that when you convert your repeater, etc., from touch-tone to digital control?

Slims will be non-existent or not last long. If they steal your key, you can repudiate it.