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Thursday 4 April 2024

Surveillance Regulator: BBC TV Detection Methods "Struggling to Keep Up with Technology"

TV Licensing Blog Exclusive: The BBC's TV detection magic is struggling to keep pace with technology, according to a report by the official surveillance regulator.

The comments, which will undoubtedly leave the BBC very annoyed and egg-faced, are made in the Investigatory Powers Commissioner's Office's (IPCO) most recent report into the national broadcaster's use of television detection equipment.

TV Licensing Blog has obtained a copy of the report, dated 12th July 2022, from the BBC (BBC ref: RFI20240235). IPCO itself is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000, hence the need to obtain the report from the BBC.

We have previously written in a lot of detail about the statutory powers the BBC has to perform the dark art of television detection. For ease of reference, here are some of the key articles:

Unlike many other anti-TV licence publications, TV Licensing Blog is of the view that television detection is a reality - not least because of official reports like this one - but its use is not nearly as widespread or effective as the BBC would like people to believe.

The BBC has previously disclosed that it relies heavily on the public perception that detection is an effective and wide-reaching tool. It wants people to believe that detector vans (aff. link) are trundling up and down streets, across the land and around the clock. Furthermore, each van is fitted with the technical wizardry to rapidly pinpoint unlicensed television reception to within a few feet. The reality is very different.

In its Decision Notice (FS50154106) dated 16th October 2008, the Information Commissioner's Office said: "The BBC states that to release information which relates to the number of detection devices and how often they are used will change the public's perception of their effectiveness.

"If the deterrent effect is lost, the BBC believes that a significant number of people would decide not to pay their licence fee, knowing how the deployment and effectiveness of vans and other equipment will affect their chances of success in avoiding detection."

Legislation is such that detection can only be authorised and deployed where less-invasive methods of enquiries have been exhausted. It should only be authorised when absolutely necessary and proportionate to the task at hand. This means its use is reserved exclusively for those properties that have resisted conventional methods of enquiry - e.g. threatograms and door knocking goons.

As will become apparent later on in this article, those properties with a Withdrawal of Implied Rights of Access (WOIRA) instruction in place, which limits the use of conventional methods of enquiry, are far more susceptible to the use of detection. This in turn makes these properties more susceptible to search warrant action, although figures inadvertently disclosed by the BBC confirm this is exceptionally rare.

There are only two people at the BBC who can authorise detection (Authorising Officers, AOs) - the Head of Revenue Management and the Head of Marketing. Authorisations last for a period of 8 weeks, at which point they need to be either cancelled or renewed.

Positive detection results are only used as evidence towards the application for a search warrant - you can read a lot more about this in our Pandora's Box article. For obvious reasons search warrant applications take place behind closed doors, which means details of the detection equipment and procedure remain a secret.

Detection evidence is never used during the prosecution of an alleged TV licence evader in open court, as doing so would render that evidence liable for challenge and closer scrutiny. Instead, evidence uncovered during the execution of the warrant would be used for prosecution purposes. According to the BBC, TV Licensing reserves the right to use detection evidence in court in the future - although for the reasons mentioned it isn't likely.

We draw readers' attention to the following statements made in the report:

  • "All authorisations for this inspection period have focused on those customers who have withdrawn the common law right of access to walk up to and knock on their front door, and are not recorded as having a TV licence."
  • "The Withdrawal of Implied Right of Access (WOIRA) currently exists for over 30,000 addresses, a number of which can be attributed to recognised protest groups."
  • "Both AOs fall short in their consideration of proportionality."
  • "The success rate (of detection) is limited, with only a small number of deployments resulting in further enforcement action, such as the execution of a search warrant."
  • "This could be due to the limitations of the detection equipment, which is apparently struggling to keep up with the technological advancements in television viewing."
  • "The organisation (BBC) has implemented a rather curious approach to reviewing authorisations."
  • "The current review process is bureaucratic, halts activity unnecessarily, and does not demonstrate an effective use of the power."
  • "Allowing an authorisation to expire without being cancelled seems to be commonplace, but this approach has always been viewed by IPCO as 'poor practice' and should cease."

The fourth bullet point is particularly damaging to the BBC's claim of an effective detection regime, as it confirms that detection results are often so poor that they are of limited evidential value towards search warrant applications.

Compared with previous reports, it would appear that there has been a decline in the standards with which detection is managed by the BBC. It would also appear that there are operational and technological deficiencies with the BBC's current detection equipment.

Quite simply, despite its pretence to the contrary, the BBC's detection magic does not work as well as it should. It also does not work nearly as well as the BBC pretends it does.

Please share this message far and wide.

You can read the July 2022 IPCO report on the BBC, brought to you exclusively by TV Licensing Blog, here.

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Further anti-BBC reading:

1 comment:

Terminator said...

The vans are a myth they possibly did use them in the 50's and 60's when household had very little equipment that used electric, maybe a TV, radio and an iron using electric. There's a video on You Tube about a person who bought and old TVL van, T reg 1979, and they restored it to full working order. It was shown on the One show and they detected a TV on a driveway, I think they might have tried inside the home first, but it couldn't detect it from all the other electrical equipment in use.
The new vans are nothing more than an empty shell with the TVL logo on the side.