Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Kids' commissioner calls for ban on Mosquito, ultrasonic anti-teen device

The creators of a pioneering device that uses high-frequency sound to stop teenagers congregating outside shops, schools and railway stations reacted angrily today to news that the government-appointed Children's Commissioner wants to see it banned
The £500 Mosquito device has been installed at some 3,500 locations across the country since it first went on sale in January 2006. It emits an irritating, high-pitched sound that can only be heard by children and young people up into their early twenties, forcing them to move on.

But Sir Albert Aynsley-Green, the Children's Commissioner for England appointed to represent the views of the country’s 11 million children, has set up a campaign – called Buzz Off – that is calling for the Mosquito to be banned on grounds that it infringes the rights of young people.

“These devices are indiscriminate and target all children and young people, including babies, regardless of whether they are behaving or misbehaving,” Sir Al told the BBC. “The use of measures such as these are simply demonising children and young people, creating a dangerous and widening divide between the young and the old.”

He added: "This device is a quick fix. It's not tackling the root of the problem and it's indiscriminate."

The campaign has won the support of human rights groups including Liberty, whose director, Shami Chakrabarti, described it as a "sonic weapon directed against children and young people".

"What type of society uses a low-level sonic weapon on its children? Imagine the outcry if a device was introduced that caused blanket discomfort to people of one race or gender, rather than to our kids," she said.

But Simon Morris, commercial director of Compound Security Systems, which created and markets the Mosquito, today defended it and questioned the motivation of the campaign to ban it.

"Our opinion – and unless Ms Chakrabarti has managed to change the legislation we still have free speech – is that Liberty is being more discriminatory in this campaign than anyone using the Mosquito," he said. "They are not willing to consider the victims of anti-social behaviour."

The device works by emitting a pulse at 17-18 kilohertz that switches on and off four times a second for up to 20 minutes. Teenagers can pick it up through minute hairs in their inner ears – but those hairs tend to die off by the time they reach 25.

Compound Security insists that the device is both safe and legal. Mr Morris said that it operates at 85 decibels, making it lower in volume than the traffic on most high streets, and most teenagers would take quite a while to even notice that an emitter had been switched on. He compares the level of irritation with going downstairs without turning off your alarm clock - "you can ignore it for a couple of minutes but after five minutes it starts to get annoying".

The company says that 75 per cent of its sales have been to police forces and local authorities, who install it in spots where they are keen to prevent gangs of teenagers assembling.

Mr Morris agrees with Sir Al that the device is not a long-term solution to the problem of anti-social behaviour but denies that the device simply moves the problem on.

"Police forces will support me with this. Kids will come from various parts of a neighbourhood and congregate in that one spot, like the centre of a wheel," he said.

"What police find is that rather than one group of 20 or 20 kids in one location they will split into smaller groups and the smaller groups cause less problems. Of course it doesn't solve the long-term problem, but it does what it says on the box. It disperses the large groups."

A teacher-proof ringtone based on the Mosquito sound was said to be the most widely downloaded in the country when it came out in 2006, although Mr Morris said that the most of the sales occurred through unlicensed sites. It remains popular, although Sir Al expressed his concern today that it was being used to disrupt classes.

Mr Morris said that he and his partner, Howard Stapleton, who invented the device after his 15-year-old daughter was taunted by a gang of youths outside a shop, had been trying to organise an official code of practice to ensure that the device was not abused.

They had spoken to various bodies including the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers but had been told by Liberty that it did not want to get involved.

"I really don’t understand where this Aynsley-Green is coming from or what he hopes to achieve. If nobody, including Liberty, will sit down and hammer out a fair usage policy, a code of practice, then I don't understand what they hope to achieve," he said.

Source: The Times

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