TV Licensing: Detection Equipment and Search Warrants

The request was refused by British Broadcasting Corporation.

Dear British Broadcasting Corporation,

As far as I can see, you refuse to answer any FOI requests relating to the calibration, specification or accuracy of detection equipment on the basis that it would or could jeopardise the collection of your revenue. By your own admission, detection evidence has never been used to secure a conviction in court. These factors, taken together, suggest serious deficiencies in the effectiveness of the equipment.

Despite not using detection equipment in court, you have said, on record, that you do use evidence from these gadgets to secure Search Warrants.

What confuses me is how data from such a mysterious and unquantified source can be considered as credible evidence in support of a legal application to invade the privacy of one's home.

If, for example, your detection equipment is unable to distinguish between televisions being used to watch live programmes and televisions playing DVDs, then any evidence provided would be useless in establishing any reasonable suspicion of evasion. Search Warrants gained from such evidence would be little more than fishing expeditions, completely unlawful in many respects, and an absolute disgrace to the British justice system and the principles upon which it is founded. Public interest in such scenarios far outweigh the need for the bbc to protect its income.

Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 I ask the following:

1: Can your van-based or handheld detection devices distinguish between televisions being used to watch live programmes and televisions playing DVDs, video games, streamed content from PC hard drive etc.

It is extremely important that you answer this as I feel JPs/Magistrates must be made fully aware of any limitations in the equipment when making the decision to sanction a home invasion.

2: When using van-based or handheld detector evidence to obtain a Search Warrant, are steps taken to ensure JPs/Magistrates are made fully aware of any limitations in the accuracy or effectiveness of the equipment?

The reason for this question is that I am concerned that JP/Magistrates could be approving Search Warrant requests whilst operating under the un corrected misconception that your detection equipment is infallible.

Yours faithfully,

D Westwood

Peter Jones left an annotation ()

Request about "Detection" -> BBC default refusal to provide information.

They won't provide honest responses, because it would confirm what a crock their detection capabilities really are.

D Westwood left an annotation ()

The execution of a TV Licensing search warrant is such a hideous Gestapo-style breach of personal privacy that I'm utterly astounded that the rights and freedoms of the victims are not protected by affording them the opportunity to put their side across as part of the application process.

Even more astonishing when considering that the content of these applications is submitted by commission-based agents of a debt collection company of mixed repute, earning cash for convictions.

I find the thought of these agents tripping over personal items and rummaging around in kids' bedrooms completely abhorrent and it amazes me that public funds are frittered on police attendance.

D Westwood left an annotation ()

Hi Peter,

What concerns me is not the detailed particulars of detection technology, but the thought that their policy of tight-lippedness leads to JPs/Magistrates being fooled into believing that reasonable suspicion of evasion exists and signing warrants on that basis- hence the thrust of this request which, I should hope, bears enough extra merit as far as public interest is concerned to warrant an honest answer where other different requests have previously been denied.

Watchkeeper left an annotation ()

Here's part of an actual submission which obtained a search warrant:

>> Begins:

5 A television display generates light at specific frequencies. Some of that light escapes through windows usually after being reflected from one or more walls of the room in which the television is situated. The optical detector in the detector van uses a large lens to collect that light and focus it on to an especially sensitive device, which converts fluctuating light levels into electrical signals, which can be electronically analysed. If a receiver is being used to watch broadcast programmes then a positive reading is returned. The device gives a confidence factor in percentage terms, which is determined by the strength of the signal received by the detection equipment and confirms whether or not the source of the signal is a "possible broadcast".

6 On the 31st March 2011 at 18.36 hours the detector van was positioned near the Premises. When the detector camera was pointed at the window of the Premises a positive signal was received indicating a TV receiver was in use receiving a possible broadcast with a confidence factor of 97%. A television aerial and a satellite dish was also seen affixed to the Premises.

Ends >>

Besides clearly stating that the detector is a camera, the rest is such blatantly pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo (e.g. "A television display generates light at specific frequencies" = "A television displays coloured pictures") that magistrates have to receive special "Court Training Sessions" thoughtfully provided by the BBC's PR people to keep them on side. See

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/i...

though the bits you're interested in have been redacted "in the interests of law enforcement". Of course, the BBC has little interest in the Law when it comes to the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Peter Jones left an annotation ()

You should probably add Watchkeeper that the "victim" of that particular search, who was "detected" by TV Licensing, was found NOT GUILTY in court, because the search uncovered no evidence of wrongdoing.

Draw your own conclusions from that one, others who are reading this.

D Westwood left an annotation ()

My word, what a bombshell! So search warrants are applied for based on woolly science that, at best, may show a TV is on, but clearly has no way of discerning what is being watched- DVDs or otherwise. This submission, with its 97% certainty claim that live programming is being watched is a classic example of 'sexed up'. Laughable were it not in support of an application to trample on someone's rights by searching their home in the hope of finding something incriminating.

The added mention of aerials or satellites being included as evidence appears to be a desperate attempt to bump up a bogus 97% a touch higher in the mind of JP's/Magistrates. Obviously people generally don't bother to take this equipment with them when they move, so almost all but the most recently built houses will have an aerial.

Is being untruthful in a Search Warrant application unlawful?
Are the BBC > JP training courses in the public domain?

D Westwood left an annotation ()

Scratch that last question on training courses- I jumped the gun and now have it.

Peter Jones left an annotation ()

The BBC don't advertise them as training courses, but their is little doubt that TV Licensing use their "information sessions" to indoctrinate JPs into their way of thinking.

J. Jones left an annotation ()

Yes, the BBC screams & shouts about those that break the law because they have no TVL, but are very reluctant to properly comply with the FOI act - what gives with these double standards BBC?

Watchkeeper left an annotation ()

Mr Jones, you're quite right to point out that the householder was found not guilty. Further, the house was empty when the "evidence" was collected!

Full story here:

http://tinyurl.com/mmnr6o4

Also, the BBC (which bears ultimate responsibility for all TV licensing activities) definitely DOES refer, or at least HAS referred, to "Court Training Sessions". See the image on this post:

http://tinyurl.com/clflvh8

FOI Enquiries, British Broadcasting Corporation

Dear Mr Westwood,

Thank you for your request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, as detailed in your email below. Your request was received on 22nd June 2013. We will deal with your request as promptly as possible, and at the latest within 20 working days. If you have any queries about your request, please contact us at the address below.

The reference number for your request is RFI20130894.

Kind regards

The Information Policy & Compliance Team

BBC Freedom of Information
BC2 B6, Broadcast Centre
201 Wood Lane
London W12 7TP

www.bbc.co.uk/foi
Email: [BBC request email]

Tel: 020 8008 2882

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D Westwood left an annotation ()

TVL: "Every old TV & radio is also a transmitter!!!. This was the signal used to detect if a TV was in use. With the advent of digital TV they now use a light spectrum analyser. Every TV broadcasts (shines) a very specific range of colours (frequencies) from the screen."
-------------------------------
Q: “Can it even work out which channel they’re watching?”

TVL: “It doesn’t tell us what they’re watching but it tells us which room they’re watching it in, and we can tell that in as little as 20 seconds.”
--------------------------------

So there it is. Technology that cannot tell what you are watching, even if it's DVD's, catchup, video games or an old wedding video.

But with clever wording Capita still use it to dupe non-technically minded magistrates into signing Search Warrants.

Watchkeeper left an annotation ()

The first thing a magistrate should check is whether the BBC has followed the procedures laid down in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (British Broadcasting Corporation) Order 2001.

Detection apparatus cannot be deployed willy-nilly, and pictures of PR people waving green "magic wands" around are, quite frankly, ludicrous. They are also deliberately misleading - but that's the BBC for you.

http://tinyurl.com/aofz98n

FOI Enquiries, British Broadcasting Corporation

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Westwood,

Please find attached the response to your request for information, reference RFI20130894.

Yours sincerely,

The Information Policy and Compliance Team

BBC Information Policy and Compliance
BC2B6, Broadcast Centre
201 Wood Lane
London W12 7TP, UK

Website: www.bbc.co.uk/foi
Email: mailto:[BBC request email]
Tel: 020 8008 2882
Fax: 020 8008 2398

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Watchkeeper left an annotation ()

"As your requests relate to how our detection equipment works ..."

Not so, and obviously not so. Question 1 is "can the equipment distinguish between live broadcast reception and other uses?" Answering the question "can it?" need not divulge HOW the equipment can so distinguish, only WHETHER it can - either yes or no. For example, a machine is able to sort seeds by colour. Discoloured seeds are removed from the seed stream automatically. By saying this (and it's a real example) the fact that the equipment CAN distinguish seed colour is affirmed but HOW the equipment works is not stated.

Question 2 is "are magistrates made aware of limitations?" Again, no details of HOW the equipment works is required as the answer can be a simple yes or no.

Once again the BBC turns down an opportunity to explain just how effective its "detection" is. Once again the BBC informs us that if it did explain how detection works, that information would be of use in evading licence fee payment. This can only be so if detection is ineffective. If detection WAS effective, disclosing that information would be of no use at all to a potential evader. Rather, it would discourage evasion. It's simple logic, really.

Dear British Broadcasting Corporation,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of British Broadcasting Corporation's handling of my FOI request 'TV Licensing: Detection Equipment and Search Warrants'.

Reagarding your refusal to answer Q1, asking if your detection equipment can differentiate between TVs using live broadcasts and TVs being used to watch DVDs etc. See the below quote from one of your own spokespersons:

“It doesn’t tell us what they’re watching but it tells us which room they’re watching it in, and we can tell that in as little as 20 seconds.”

I think that answers question 1.

I'm puzzled as to why you are more than happy to voluntarily answer this question live on radio, but refuse when required to by law under the Freedom of Information Act.

With it now established that your detection equipment cannot tell the difference between a licence dodger and a DVD watcher, I believe it is both deplorable and unlawful that such flimsy evidence is sexed up in Section 366 Search Warrant applications. Your 'detecting' a legally licence free household watching a video is not reasonable grounds to search their home.

My internal review request especially relates to question 2, which you bunched in with Q1 in your refusal. Q2 was not a request for top secret information about 'perception deterrent technology'.

Question 2) asked if steps are taken to ensure JPs/Magistrates are made fully aware of any limitations in the accuracy or effectiveness of the equipment.

The link below features an example of a perjurious and misleading Section 366 Search Warrant application.

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/t...

In the Heather example above, reasonable suspicion was not established, so the search warrant should not have been issued. Question 2 attempts to discover if JPs are as 'in the dark' about detection equipment as the rest of the public when considering detection equipment 'evidence'.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address:

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/t...

Yours faithfully,

D Westwood

Peter Jones left an annotation ()

I like the cut of your jib DW.
There is no doubt that there are often "strange goings-on" with how TV Licensing "gather" their evidence.
The link that you say leads to a "perjurious and misleading Section 366 Search Warrant application" doesn't appear to.

D Westwood left an annotation ()

Hi Peter and thanks!

The link works for me. It should take you to a MoJ FOI request on the same topic.

FOI Enquiries, British Broadcasting Corporation

Dear Mr Westwood,

We have received your request for an internal review relating to our decision to withhold information under Section 31 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The information you requested was about TV Licencing and the extent of JP's/Magistrates' knowledge regarding detection equipment.

Your request for an internal review was received on 19/07/2013. We shall deal with the review as promptly as possible and, at the latest, within 30 working days. If you have any queries please contact us at the address below.

The reference number for your internal review is IR2013054.

BBC Information Policy and Compliance
BC2 B6, Broadcast Centre
201 Wood Lane
London, W12 7TP

Website: www.bbc.co.uk/foi/
Email: [BBC request email]
Tel: 020 8008 2882
Fax: 020 8008 2398

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Dear BBC Information Policy and Compliance,

Reference IR2013054:

Please let me know how this review is progressing.

Also, in my review request the Heather Case link should have been this:

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/t...

In the seven weeks you have been working on this review, I'm surprised this incorrect link wasn't spotted!

Yours sincerely,

D Westwood

FOI Enquiries, British Broadcasting Corporation

Dear Mr Westwood,

I must apologise for the delay in replying to your internal review request.

Please be assured that we are working on this and will have the response with you as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely,

The Information Policy & Compliance Team

BBC Freedom of Information
BC2B6, Broadcast Centre
201 Wood Lane
London W12 7TP

www.bbc.co.uk/foi
Email: [BBC request email]

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Peter Jones left an annotation ()

DW: You don't believe everything TV Licensing's PR people say when they're promoting funding of the BBC on a BBC radio station?

There is a chance that Mark Whitehouse - in common with a lot of TV Licensing people - doesn't actually know what he's on about!

D Westwood left an annotation ()

Hi Peter,

Thank you for liking the cut of my jib.

The refusal to divulge detection capability, coupled with the use of the phrase 'possible broadcast' in the Heather SW affidavit, leads me to believe Whitehouse's admission that their detectors are unable to ascertain what is being watched on a TV absent the TV screen itself being visible.

FAO: The Information Policy & Compliance Team

I thank you for your correspondence of 20 days ago, in which you apologised for the tardiness of a conclusion to your internal review. You gave assurances to the effect that it was well underway, you were hard at work on it and that you'd deliver the completed work in as timely a fashion as possible.

With the review still incomplete, I would like to express my surprise in the length of time it is taking.

With this review being initiated July 19th, I trust that the body of work delivered will be satisfactorily relative to the length of time it has taken, and not an arbitrary refusal that would have taken less than an hour to throw together.

Kind regards,

D Westwood

Peter Jones left an annotation ()

Go to the ICO. It's the only thing they understand. They'd give insincere canned responses all day if they thought they could get away with it!

See here: http://www.ico.org.uk/complaints/getting/

Download the complaint form here, fill it in (2 mins work) and then email it to the ICO: http://www.ico.org.uk/complaints/getting...

FAO: The Information Policy & Compliance Team

This lack of activity and communication is unlawful and, quite frankly, intolerable.

Absent the courtesy of a speedy resolution, I will lodge a formal complaint with the Information Commissioner's Office.

Kind regards,

D Westwood

Dear FOI Enquiries,

You acknowledged that the internal review request was received 19/07.

You apologised for the delay and assured me that work was underway on 05/09.

My subsequent correspondence of late Sept was ignored.

It is now 29/10 and still nothing. Please get your act together in the next few days. Failure to do so will leave no alternative other than to lodge a formal complaint with the Information Commissioner's Office.

Yours sincerely,

D Westwood

FOI Enquiries, British Broadcasting Corporation

2 Attachments

Dear Mr Westwood,

Please find attached the final response to this IR, which was sent to you last week.

IPC

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