For many decades, the trusting British public has paid an annual licence fee in order to legally watch television in their own homes. The annual fee currently stands at £145 ($233 dollars US). But why pay? Why don't we Brits all claim not to own a TV set? For many the answer most likely is because the BBC tells us that detector vans tour the streets and can detect from those very streets, with powerful hi-tech wall penetrating pin-point accurate prying wizardry, who is and who is not watching TV in their own homes.
In 2006, a skeptical member of the public used the Freedom of Information Act to find out if these vans actually could detect an unlicensed television set. In their letter of reply, the BBC refused to explain how their equipment was supposed to actually work. On appeal in 2008, the Information Commissioners Office upheld the right of the BBC to keep that information from the public on the basis of their being a rational official fear that it would lead to an upsurge in non-payment of licence fees! So here we see that 'fear of crime' really can cause problems for society in unforeseen ways.
The relevant letter is copied below. Make of it what you will, because it is published here in the public interest.
Reference: FS50154106 Freedom of Information Act 2000 (Section 50)
Public Authority: British Broadcasting Corporation
Address: 2252 White City
201 Wood Lane
The complainant requested information from the BBC regarding the number of TV detection devices, how often they are deployed and their technical specification. The BBC refused to disclose the information under section 31(1) (a) (b) (d) and (g) of the Act. The Commissioner has investigated and found that the information is exempt under section 31(1) (a) (b) (d) and (g) and that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure of the information.
The Commissioner’s Role
1. The Commissioner’s duty is to decide whether a request for information made to a public authority has been dealt with in accordance with the requirements of Part 1 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the “Act”). This Notice sets out his decision.
2. The complainant has advised that on 6 October 2006 he made the following request for information to the British Broadcasting Corporation:
1. Please could you confirm or deny that a BBC department developed hand-held devices.
1 Reference: FS50154106
2. Do you still use TV detection devices in your pursuit of TV tax evaders, be they your mobile vans or hand-held devices?
3. Please could you confirm that TVL are currently using these devices?
4. Please could you confirm or deny that the existence of a fleet of TV detection vans and hand-held devices is a myth
5. What levels of training do your operators have to use such devices
6. How many do you possess?
7. How often are they deployed?
8. If TV detection devices exist, please could you provide me with their technical specifications.
9. If your answer is that you still use them, please could you provide photographic evidence of their existence and to satisfy my technical and professional curiosity and please could you provide the technical specifications of the devices.
3. The BBC responded on 6 November 2006. The BBC provided answers to questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 9 but refused to disclose the information requested in questions 6, 7 and 8 under section 31(1) (a) (b) (d) and (g) of the Act. The BBC carried out a public interest test and concluded that the public interest favours maintaining the exemption.
4. The complainant requested an internal review of the decision and the BBC responded on 7 February 2007. The review upheld the original decision to withhold the information requested in parts 6, 7 and 8 under section 31 of the Act.
Scope of the case
5. On 13 March 2007 the complainant contacted the Commissioner to complain about the way his request for information had been handled. The complainant specifically asked the Commissioner to consider the application of section 31 to the withheld information.
6. The Commissioner began his investigation on 22 April 2008 by writing to the BBC to request further explanation regarding the application of the exemption and for a copy of the withheld information.
2 Reference: FS50154106
7. The BBC responded on 8 July 2008 providing the Commissioner with further arguments to support its reliance on section 31 and with details of the withheld information.
Findings of fact
8. The information being withheld under section 31(1) (a), (b), (d) and (g) of the Act is:
• How many detection devices the BBC possesses • How often are they deployed • The technical specification of TV detection devices (if they exist)
Exemption: Section 31 ‘Law enforcement’
9. Section 31(1) provides that information is exempt if its disclosure under the Act would, or would be likely to prejudice (a) the prevention or detection of crime, (b) the apprehension or prosecution of offenders (d) and the assessment or collection of any tax or duty or any imposition of a similar nature (g) the exercise by any public authority of its functions for any of the purposes specified in subjection (2). The purpose specified in subsection (2), claimed by the BBC is, (a) the purpose of ascertaining whether any person has failed to comply with the law.
10. The BBC has stated that the information is exempt from disclosure as it would prejudice the prevention or detection of crime; the prosecution of offenders; the assessment or collection of tax; and the ability of the BBC to exercise its function. This is due to the fact that a person would use the information to evade the licence fee. The BBC explained that there are three types of information covered by the request which could aid a person to evade the licence fee. These are:
• Information relating to how the number of detection devices • how often they are used, and • Technical equipment used in television detector vans and handheld devices
11. The BBC explained that its responsibility to enforce the licensing regime arises as a consequence of its powers to issue TV licences and to collect and recover licence fees. This responsibility was expressly confirmed by the Home Office in 1991, the year in which the BBC became the statutory authority for the licensing regime. The BBC’s enforcement activities are in place to ensure that people pay their licence fee and they rely upon a number of deterrents. This process begins with TV Licensing’s database of 29 million homes and business addresses which tells it which of these have TV licences. Typically a number of letters will be sent to unlicensed addresses reminding people of the importance of being properly licensed and giving them information on the way to pay. Households may also receive telephone calls asking whether a TV licence is needed at the address. To those who delay or try to evade payment, TV Licensing communicate the possible consequence of evasion such as the use of detection equipment and potential prosecution.
Dr Mike Sutton is author of Nullius in Verba: Darwin's Greatest Secret - the book that proves, with independently verifiable, newly available, Big Data analysis, who Darwin and Wallace knew who read and cited Patrick Matthews 1831 book containing his unique discovery of the complete theory of natural selection. Darwin maintained to his deathbed that no naturalist known to him had read Matthew's ideas, and Wallace repeated that claim. Darwin's excuse has been accepted by experts in the field for over 154 years, until now.
The new data, uniquely discovered by Sutton in 2014, proves that neither Darwin nor Wallace can now be considered rationally to be independent discoverers of the process of natural selection. Moreover, Sutton used the same new research techniques to unearth a wealth of further new and independently verifiable data, to argue that Darwin and Wallace perpetrated the world's greatest science fraud when they each claimed no prior-knowledge of Matthew's book.
My former supervising agency is noted for it's over extending intrusions of privacy...but they certainly do not engage in such overbearing encroachment of our peace and tranquility let alone outlandishly engaging in harassing propaganda. I'm somewhat disappointed in what I always believed the BBC to be. But then again having loved what I did with the Army Security Agency... I'm certainly not happy that the NSA built a" Big Data" facility just 30 miles down the road....But then again having it right on the Eastern Coast at Ft. Meade Maryland would not have been the smartest of ideas either.
October 15, 2014 at 3:37 pm
Two points here:
1) The BBC harass anyone who hasn't got a licence, regardless of whether they own a TV set or not. Possibly the threats will lead people who have a TV set to pay up if they haven't a licence.
2) Detector vans are irrelevant in this day and age, as you can watch BBC TV programmes live from the UK using the iPlayer (I've just checked that this works -- there isn't even a warning that you need a licence to watch programmes live as I believe is the case). Perhaps if they were granted sufficient snooping powers they could tell who was watching but I doubt if they are allowed to do this.
I once went without TV for two years as an experiment. Let me explain.
About 8 years ago, I gave away a TV set to a friend because I was about to buy a new flat screen model. It was a busy time, my old TV licence expired and I never got around to buying the new set straight away. Then hassling and nasty letters from the BBC Licencing Agency began to arrive, I'd had a TV and licence for about 25 years so - as a loyal customer this really ticked me off.
Being a stubborn old so and so I decided not to buy a TV and not to respond to the letters. I was getting threats of search warrants and visits on the doorstep UNDER CAUTION NO LESS. I was told they could get a search warrant and enter my home with a police officer for heavens sake. And all the while each letter mentioned those mysterious hi-tech detector vans that could ascertain whether I ACTUALLY WAS WATCHING TV!
In the end I wrote to the agency and said: "I'm not telling you if I do have a TV or not. Why not? Because you say you think I do and you say you have detector vans that can tell and because you have been threatening and harassing me in my home with this endless steam of official mail ". So I demanded back of them this time:Why don't you use your famous detector vans and prove to yourselves that I either am or am not watching TV? (I never had a TV - of course).
My reasoning behind writing to the BBC in that way was that surely the detector vans can't work or else they would not have to so persistently use the postal service to make nasty threats to possibly innocent people. Clearly, if they had detector vans that worked they would not need to threaten and harass innocent people like myself.
Dear Reader - we are talking here about such nasty threatening letters at least every month and sometimes twice a month.
In the end my partner moved in with me and she insisted I buy a TV. And so - naturally as a law abiding citizen - I bought a licence to go with a brand new TV and the nasty persistent harassment stopped thereafter.
The fact the BBC are charging a licence fee to the great British public because they are meant to present an objective and independent truthful account of World affairs - and yet are at the same time perpetrating a great fraud against the British public is scandalous in my admittedly pedantic and stubborn opinion.
I take your point about new forms of media viewing, but many people still watch traditional broadcast TV or BBC via satellite or cable etc.