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Wednesday, 22 August 2012

BBC Shy on Snooping Powers


Today's news is abuzz with Big Brother Watch's research findings that a significant number of public authorities are misusing covert surveillance legislation and dodging their accountability on the issue.

The BBC is one of seven authorities named and shamed for refusing to confirm how it uses the archaic Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which has been dubbed a "snoopers charter" for its potential to unjustly invade people's privacy.

As the BBC has failed, we will answer on its behalf.

The BBC uses the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and Regulation of Investigatory Powers (British Broadcasting Corporation) Order 2001 to authorise the use of television detection equipment at the properties of suspected licence fee evaders.

The law requires that a licence is obtained for any device that is "installed or used" for "receiving or recording a television programme at the same time (or virtually the same time) as it is received by members of the public". The BBC, as Licensing Authority, has a statutory duty to administer and enforce the TV licence system. Enforcing the TV licence is a dirty business, which the BBC seeks to distance itself from as much as possible. For that reason it performs its duties under the guise of TV Licensing. Several private companies, notably Capita Business Services Ltd, are contracted by the BBC to perform TV Licensing work.

TV Licensing relies heavily on doorstep salesmen, who it calls visiting officers, to determine the licensable status of the properties they visit. However, as no-one is under any legal obligation to communicate or co-operate with TV Licensing or its employees, there are occasions when a visiting officer is unable to gain voluntary access to a property to establish its licensable status. In these circumstances TV Licensing might seek to gather detection evidence, under the terms of snoopers charter legislation, to determine whether the occupier is watching/recording TV programme services without a licence. TV Licensing has previously confirmed to us that detection evidence is only used to apply for search warrants.

We have serious doubts about the efficiency and validity of TV Licensing's detection evidence, which is supported by the fact it has never been presented for court scrutiny during the prosecution of an alleged licence fee evader. Quite frankly the science behind detection just doesn't stack up, as a read of our previous article will demonstrate.

The BBC has told us that it uses the snoopers charter legislation to authorise either general or specific television detection. General detection is where detection equipment is used in the locality of several target properties. Specific detection is when TV Licensing use their detection equipment against a single named property. In both cases it is one or more specific properties that are being targeted. TV Licensing is not empowered to arbitrarily use detection equipment wherever it likes, despite any suggestions to the contrary.

If TV Licensing wishes to use detection equipment it must seek authorisation from the BBC by completing a pre-printed form. The details on the form are personally scrutinised by either the Head of Sales and Marketing or the Head of Revenue Management in the BBC's TV Licensing Management Team, who are the only two Authorising Officers. The Authorising Officer must give a written statement confirming details of the detection they are authorising before they sign off the form. Once granted the authority is valid for eight weeks, but must be reviewed at the half way point.

So there you have it. A complete picture of how the BBC uses the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. It wasn't that difficult, so I wonder why they're so shy in talking about it?

Edit (15/9/2015): The combined post of Head of Sales and Marketing has recently been split into two separate Head of Sales and Head of Marketing posts. This means that there are now three Authorising Officers in the BBC TVLMT: The Head of Revenue Management, the Head of Sales and the Head of Marketing.

Edit (2/2/2016): The BBC has inadvertenly let slip the actual TV Licensing detection figures for 2015. As we suspected, they confirm that the use of TV detection is exceptionally rare. It is certainly not widespread or routine. You can read more here.

4 comments:

Watchkeeper said...

It may be worth emphasising that specific detection is for a single address and general detection is for two or more addresses within a specified postcode. In both cases individual addresses are targeted. The idea of a detector van cruising the streets investigating each and every house it passes is a deception.

Likewise, the idea of an "Enforcement Officer" waving a portable gizmo around, detecting unlicensed TVs on his travels, is a deception.

admin said...

Thank you Watchkeeper. You are absolutely correct and I have amended the post to highlight the fact.

TJoK said...

See the binoculars held up to the eyes of the man in Watchkeeprs image. That's the optical detector that. Nothing more, nothing less.

Fear is their only weapon they have to trick people to pay up and piece by piece their weapons are being destroyed by the likes of both of yourselves.

I even gifted them the opportunity to detect live signals at my house for a period of one month but they declined the terms of my offer which were that they could only use their detection equipment to prove it.

I'd have been happy to fund the BBC with a reward of £1000 plus a further £1000 to a charity of their choice upon them proving their technology, bringing me to book and silencing me.

Strangely enough they never took me up on my generous offer.

Anonymous said...

I have an image now of Jimmy Savile sitting in the back of one of these vans, peering down the tele-photo lens into someone's home …

But seriously, it's a bit off BBC signing off these requests for RIPA surveillance. The government made specific provision for the BBC to do this—The Regulation of Investigatory Powers (British Broadcasting Corporation) Order 2001. At the very least someone from OFCOM should undertake that role, like someone totally separate from the BBC.