back to article BBC detector vans are back to spy on your home Wi-Fi – if you can believe it

The BBC's creepy detector vans will be dragged into the 21st century to sniff Brits' home Wi-Fi networks, claims the UK Daily Telegraph's Saturday splash. From September 1, you'll need a telly licence if you stream catch-up or on-demand TV from the BBC's iPlayer service, regardless if you've got a television set or not – phone …

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  1. Richard 12 Silver badge

    Once upon a time detector vans existed

    They could listen for emissions from the CRT, and/or the intermediate frequencies used by TVs.

    Then they realised they could just ask for your address when buying a TV.

    Then they realised that almost everyone has a TV and they could just send a nastygram to every address that doesn't have a licence.

    So detector vans do not exist and haven't for decades. Instead there is a team of people sending out letters and knocking on doors.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

      Pedant Mode (Sorry)

      The vans detected the leaked local oscillator (not the IF) from the first stage of the radio receivers that picked up the TV signal. Colour TVs had more receivers to pick up the colour signals, and so could be distinguished from black'n'white sets.

      The local oscillators themselves can be quite powerful (as these things go), around about 1mW, so they're easily detected in the street having leaked back through cheap mixers and up the aerial cable. The same thing still applies today for Freeview digital sets.

      Bait

      I ran a B&W set for ages acting as detector van bait, and always ignored the nastygrams accusing me of probably having a colour set (which I didn't). Saw the van a couple of times. Being an RF engineer and having access to some reasonably powerful kit, I was tempted to give them a nasty blast of a high power signal, see how they like that up their spectrum analyser.

      Signal != Person

      One of the problems I think they'll have with this new technology is that they cannot identify the people using devices.

      I'll explain with the following scenario. I have a TV license, I'm entitled to watch BBC anywhere in the UK, including when I use an public WiFi network such as BT WiFi. I go to a friend's house, who has a BT hub. I use the BT WiFi that their BT hub has switched on by default. That friend has not got a TV license, and I'm watching BBC at their place but not on their private WiFi that comes from the same BT Hub. However the BBC cannot tell the difference; they're not allowed to examine the network packet contents, encrypted or not.

      Another problem - two adjoined houses have their living rooms next to each other. The WiFi routers are in the same corner of the rooms, separated by only a couple of feet and the partition wall. One of the houses has a TV license, the other one doesn't. I bet they can't DF the emissions to the accuracy required to tell which of those WiFi routers is in which house.

      The Courts' Dismal Approach to Science and Technology

      My fear is that the BBC will be too gung-ho with prosecutions, and the courts will take an unreasonably optimistic view of the reliability of the technology. The UK courts haven't exactly been that clever at sorting scientific fact from pseudo-fact, and there's too many holes in this technique for it to be relied upon as the sole evidence required to jail someone.

      The Courts have been appallingly willing to accept scientific evidence with low probabilities of correctness as being evidential fact. If an 'expert' states in court that something is fact then the court accepts that, and no amount of dissenting scientific opinion will change their mind. As defence you're not even allowed to challenge the "expert" evidence in court or even discuss probabilities.

      This caused a number of people to be jailed on DNA evidence alone, until someone irrefutably showed that the number of base pairs being accepted at the time as "good enough" wasn't. A man accused and jailed for rape commissioned his own more thorough DNA analysis using his own money. This showed that it was a close match but definitely not an exact match - definitely not him then. Quite a few cases got quietly squashed as a result.

      Misguided and Easily Circumvented

      Effectively they are doing a primitive traffic flow analysis attack on encrypted communications. Well, that's easy enough to defeat in software. As the article suggests changing the network MTU would be one thing. But it wouldn't be hard to develop an app, or even a website, generating network traffic that'll bugger up the analysis too.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

        'As defence you're not even allowed to challenge the "expert" evidence in court or even discuss probabilities.'

        As an ex-forensic scientist I've spent many hours in court being challenged*. The closest your statement resembles reality is that no counsel I encountered on either side displayed a knowledge of statistics.

        From time to time we encountered defence "experts". They would come into the lab to use our equipment to examine the evidence. A number of times I've had to take an "expert" through the controls of a comparison fluorescence microscope. One "expert", redundant, I believe from some industrial job, would take on cases involving all manner of evidence types; within the lab we had our own specialities and stuck to those.

        I left before DNA came into use. I do share some reservations about that. I read the original paper, which depended on matching electrophoresis patterns of DNA fragments shortly after looking into the statistics of matching patterns of damage on shoe prints and suspected that there were assumptions in the pattern matching which hadn't been dealt with. Modern techniques don't depend on this but have now become so sensitive that contamination is a problem and I've read of at least one forensic scientist being in trouble for not taking this into account.

        "Signal != Person"

        AFAIA it's the householder's responsibility to obtain a TV licence so if the network is within the household it doesn't matter who's using it - providing it can be demonstrated that it wasn't a neighbour attaching themselves to it.

        *I've also had the experience of a prosecution barrister trying to get me to put more significance on an item of evidence than I considered that it bore - and eventually being rescued by an objection from the defence.

        1. bazza Silver badge

          Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

          @Doctor Syntax,

          As an ex-forensic scientist I've spent many hours in court being challenged*. The closest your statement resembles reality is that no counsel I encountered on either side displayed a knowledge of statistics.

          Very few people (least of all me) do understand statistics, which is why the courts are so reluctant for them to be discussed in open court.

          My statement about not being allowed to challenge "expert" opinion is based on several cases.

          There was a murder case in Scotland where fingerprint evidence jailed a man, and there's wasn't much else. The fingerprint analysis that the dabs matched was presented as fact. However after the case the defence took a look at the analysis themselves, and realised that it was a load of old bollocks; it pointed to matches between mere smudges in the scene of crime dabs. That should have been that - retrial, acquittal, whatever, but it took a desperately long time to persuade the court system that there was anything wrong with the evidence. I think that resulted in a wholesale reorganisation of the fingerprint service in Scotland.

          A friend's father-in-law is a senior paediatrician who was asked to act for the defence in a child abuse case. Apparently a junior doctor after many hours on shift had made a rash and almost certainly inaccurate allegation based on a late night examination of child brought into casualty. That kicked off the whole chain of events. However, despite many more senior doctors (not just said father-in-law) protesting that a mistake must have been made, because they weren't there at the time of the original examination they were not allowed to be heard in court, leaving the defence with nothing, no way even of saying that there was "reasonable doubt". AFAIK the prosecution succeeded, and was almost certainly a miscarriage of justice. It seems that in our courts, late night observations made by overworked and tired junior doctor carry more weight than the entire body of peer reviewed paediatric medicine. Not good, especially given the diabolical involvement of people like Roy Meadows.

          The DNA contamination thing now is a scary problem I think. Going on the London Underground these days probably means that some of all our DNA ends up at every crime scene in London... It's reassuring to hear that they're aware of the risk of contamination, but it's still a there-but-for-the-grace-of-god-go-I thing.

          Having been a juror and seen what goes on in a jury room, I can assure you that you should never put yourself in a position of having to trust in a jury to accurately determine guilt or innocence. Prejudice and illogical thinking can be rife... A colleague who was once a juror caused a rape trial to be stopped by privately reporting some of the goings on in the jury room to the clerk of the court. The judge on reading his note stopped the trial dead in its tracks, made no reference to the note and gave no reason. Judges are terrified that the reliability of the jury system should ever be objectively questioned, yet to those of us who have seen it it has the potential to be very dodgy indeed.

          Your mention of having to be rescued by the defence was interesting, and speaks volumes about the problems about how science is handled by the courts. You, the expert, were powerless to intervene when what you'd said was being re-interpreted by the prosecution. Can't have been comfortable.

          You say you left before DNA came into use. I don't suppose you're much of a fan of how forensic examinations are now commissioned. Forensics used to be a way by which suspects could be eliminated as well as identifying perpetrators. Now that it's directed by the cops themselves from the cheapest provider, one imagines now that they're now primarily looking for something to convict someone they already have in mind...

          Signal != Person

          It is, but not every network emanating from a house belongs to the householder. I made specific mention of BT WiFi, because literally everyone who has a BT hub is giving that out to all and sundry and you have no control over who connects to it. So a neighbour can use it to watch BBC, but it'll be your front door that the BBC will knock on. Personally speaking I wouldn't want to be relying on getting an opportunity to explain that a judge and jury.

          1. bazza Silver badge

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

            Personally speaking I think the inquisitorial system they have on the Continent is far better for handling complicated scientific and technical evidence. It allows all parties to a discussion to be consulted. Our adversarial system doesn't leave room for that.

            The inquisitorial system is also far cheaper. All the arguments we have about the legal aid budget are caused entirely by the expense of having two arguing sides to a court case.

            1. SundogUK

              Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

              The drawback is that if the government wants to stitch you up, you have had it.

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

            "I don't suppose you're much of a fan of how forensic examinations are now commissioned. Forensics used to be a way by which suspects could be eliminated as well as identifying perpetrators."

            You're right on both counts.

            I'd have gone further in my day. We were a civil service dept. ultimately managed by a govt. department. I was never aware of any interference in case work but they did have an influence on promotion (it's odd how I was offered a promotion with no paperwork let alone the formality of an interview board and outside the normal annual cycle as soon as I handed in my notice after being sat at the top of the scale for several years). Nevertheless, on the basis of justice being seen to be done I think there should have been a supervisory board containing at least one judge and at least one regular prosecution QC and at least one regular defence QC. However the position with the Met lab was even worse as they were part of the Met Police.

            Good point about those BT hubs!

          3. asdf Silver badge

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

            >Very few people (least of all me) do understand statistics

            It is pretty amazing how often I come across people on the internet that don't understand just how small a sample size if done properly can so accurately describe a much much larger population. Like they don't argue with the sampling techniques but that the concept is even possible.

            1. Adam 52 Silver badge

              Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

              "don't understand just how small a sample size if done properly can so accurately describe a much much larger population"

              Including you it would seem! A small sample can only describe a larger sample with some degree of confidence that is always less that total.

              See Nigel Farage conceding defeat in a recent poll for example.

              1. asdf Silver badge

                Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

                >Including you it would seem! A small sample can only describe a larger sample with some degree of confidence that is always less that total.

                If done properly and not too small of sample size (but still far less than the population) you can get the confidence level down extremely small. Opinion polls are among the worst example of the use of statistics because people are notoriously fickle based on the most recent news cycle, aren't always honest to polling, hard to reach, and its remarkably easy to screw up your sampling. As usual the problem is not with the math but with the people.

            2. kkanalz

              Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

              Speaking of "statistics": 87.56% of the time, statistics are simply "made up" by 78.49% of the people who employ them!

            3. Muscleguy Silver badge

              Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

              Back in the lab in the '90s we once did a back of the envelope calculation of the number of identical patterns from independent injection events you needed to conclude a transgene pattern was real and not influenced by where in the genome it had integrated*. The answer turned out to be 3. This also includes no expression where you had mutated a binding site in your transgene enhancer which abolished expression. I was doing a bit of that but nevertheless acquired at least 5 before accepting the result.

              it works because the genome is so large.

              *Which assumes integration is essentially random. Not entirely true and sequence dependent as we know from the gene therapy on people with SCIID immune deficiency where the transgene in their bone marrow gave them leukaemia. But for all practical reasons it is not unreasonable.

          4. davtom

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

            @bazza: I have also been a juror and I absolutely, wholeheartedly concur with what you say. I can't say anything about what I know, other than that I would not want to be tried by twelve of my "peers."

          5. Robert Baker

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

            "...no counsel I encountered on either side [of any case] displayed a knowledge of statistics.no counsel I encountered on either side displayed a knowledge of statistics."

            Statistics is one of those subjects which even experts sometimes get wrong. I recently saw an article about how 3% of men and 11% of women suffered some kind of child abuse; it was headlined "14% of adults suffered child abuse". According to my arithmetic, 3% of 50% of the population plus 11% of the other 50% adds up to 7% of the total population, not 14%.

          6. Julz

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

            You can turn the Wi-Fi part of the BT router off and use a different WI-FI access point which gets rid of the piggy backing problem. But I guess not many people would do that...

          7. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

            Operation Ore suspects, or their experts/solicitors were not allowed to examine the database used to raise the allegations against them. All they were given was a record(s) selected by the police from the database.

            Often their solicitors encouraged them to take a caution as juries given this "evidence" in these cases would be highly unlikely NOT to convict.

        2. Steven Jones

          Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

          It's not necessarily true that the householder has to have a licence if somebody is accessing iPlayer of live TV via the Internet. If you are a guest in a property and are using a mobile device powered off its own batteries (and not plugged into an aerial) then, if they have their own TV licence at their own home, they are covered by that. That even applies to use of a mobile device as a second home if covered at the first.

          It's all on the official website.

        3. JosephEngels
          WTF?

          Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

          Color me stupid ... but surely, rather than sending a detector van to sit outside the house of someone on the outskirts of Manchester to see if they happen to be watching iPlayer on the particular day they show up .. would it not be easier to simply easier to match up ip addresses of broadband connections (taking into account time/date for dynamically assigned IPs) and filter up a list of IP addy / timestamps of people known to not have a TV licence ... and then just cross match it with the webserver logs from the iPlayer streams?

          I suspect that may be complicated by using CDNs such as Akmai to distribute content, but the data should exist somewhere ...

        4. macjules Silver badge

          Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

          And there you have another factor: communal wifi for apartment complexes. Try detecting THAT Capita.

          1. illiad

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed ( macjules)

            yes, and all the costas, pubs, clubs, even 'wifi in phone box' things... *hundreds* of them in a seemingly 'quiet' street'... It is difficult enough getting a good signal in an office, finding the stupid 'autofind' on the router has chosen the *busiest* channel!!

      2. TheOtherHobbes

        Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

        >The vans detected the leaked local oscillator (not the IF) from the first stage of the radio receivers that picked up the TV signal.

        Which totally worked in a block of flats full of TVs. Or even a typical terraced street full of TVs when the van wasn't parked right on the doorstep of the house.

        And these days many terraces are split into top/bottom flats.

        Bottom line - this is all bullshit. The usual Capita approach is to bully people until they sign a confession and incriminate themselves. Then the court can rubber-stamp a fine.

        I'm not aware of any cases where TV detector van "evidence" was used to secure a conviction. I don't expect this to change.

        Why, you ask? Because if it were technically possible, the BBC would have made a big news story out of a successful prosecution. It would have been totally worth the money spent on lawyers.

        Because there was no there there, they didn't - and won't. A case that relies on a real criminal trial with real forensic digital evidence would cost tens of thousands at a minimum, and there's always a chance it would go the wrong way.

        Is it worth it for £150? If you don't have rock-solid evidence - no, it's not.

        But PR is as cheap as lawyers are expensive, so it's much more cost-effective to put out these nonsense stories and hope the public is gullible enough to buy them.

        1. Stuart Halliday

          Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

          Let me tell you a little secret.

          There was only a couple of working vans. They couldn't tell if the signal came from above 20ft.

          Most of the other fleet were mock ups and we're just send down a street to scare folks.

        2. Dagg

          Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

          >The vans detected the leaked local oscillator (not the IF) from the first stage of the radio receivers that picked up the TV signal.

          I thought they actually used the 15,625 kHz from the EHT osc as that really radiates and using a null looped antenna you can get a very close direction.

        3. Hey Nonny Nonny Mouse

          Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

          It is entirely possible to detect TV usage from the local oscillator, it's possible to determine which channel is being watched and even watch along on some of the poorer tuners.

          It's also entirely possible to pinpoint said signal down to a very small area, if you don't believe me all you have to do is go look for EMC compliance testing equipment and see how it can be used to pinpoint a single misbehaving component on a densely packed circuit board.

          Do I believe it was done to detect licence evasion?

          On balance, probably not, at least not on a regular basis, as others have said, it's far cheaper and easier to knock on the doors of houses that don't have a registered TV license.

          I suspect there was an element of truth in it at some point in history, someone came up with the idea of course and knowing the BBC research departments it's highly likely there was a project to prove feasibility, it probably even got trialled and used a few times but after that, it was just a PR exercise to scare people, driving around with vans that are fitted with antennae that were just for show.

      3. Graham Hawkins

        Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

        Doesn't have to be traffic analysis of the downlink. What if the iPlayer client generated uplink packets of known length and timing? It could make a relatively easily detected signal. The client could modulate the length & timing of the UL packets to pass info of limited bandwidth.

      4. katrinab Silver badge

        Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

        You can watch TV on a device outside your home if that device is powered by its own internal batteries. However, if you watch on your iPad while it is connected to a charger, then you need a licence at the location where you are watching it.

        1. Alan W. Rateliff, II
          Paris Hilton

          Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

          That is interesting. Assuming none of the rest is urban legend, that the van could in some way perfectly identify the consumer of the stream, then that battery API in HTML5 could be the final nail in the coffin for this type of scenario as the server could determine if the machine is charging or not. Of course the assumption is that the unit is charging from mains and not from one of those portable charging sticks (I got me a 24,000mA brick... very handy.)

          1. katrinab Silver badge

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

            It must be powered by <em>internal</em> batteries, so a charging stick is not allowed. I would imagine a chrging case, big fat case with a battery inside it eg http://www.apple.com/uk/shop/product/MGQL2ZM/A/iphone-6s-smart-battery-case-charcoal-grey?fnode=97 , would be acceptable though.

            1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

              Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed @katrinab

              Whilst I think you have the wording correct, the original intention of this type of clause was to allow caravan owners to watch TV under their home license (it would have been very difficult to buy a license for a caravan, which has no fixed address). It also used to say that you should not simultaneously use a portable device and the TV in the licensed address at the same time.

              Very few portable TVs had internal batteries until the advent of Sir Clive's Micro TV and the following advent of LCD TV's i the '80s and '90s. They either relied on the battery of the towing car, or had a car-type battery in the caravan.

              Nowadays, with technology moving as fast as it is, it's almost impossible to come up with some sensible definition of a device capable of receiving broadcast TV. Tying iPlayer to the license is desirable from the BBC's perspective, but makes a mockery of the fact that the license was supposed to cover the operation of receiving equipment, not access to the BBC's content.

              I don't know the answer, and I don't want the BBC's independence from commercial pressure or government interference to change, but something needs to be done. Moving to a pure subscription model with encryption appears to be the best and most fair model IMHO, but would require an increase in cost, and a similar upheaval to that when DVT came in!

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

            @ Alan W. Rateliff, II

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

            And there you have another factor: communal wifi for apartment complexes. Try detecting THAT Capita.

            They don't 'detect', it's obvious they can't and so it's a 'blanket attack' on every unlicesned address.

            If the beeb dont want people viewing, they'd paywall. Then quickly find they'd be broke because giving people an "option" will not stuff MP's coffers enough.

            It's the only industry where you can be assumed guilty first.

            The person mentioning owning a computer must make him a hacker is too true in the logic that used by capita/beeb

        2. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

          Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

          What if the charger is battery powered?

          What if the battery powered charger was charged at this location?

          What if the battery is replaced by a capacitor, and is charged and discharged very quickly?

          1. shaunhw

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

            What if the charger is battery powered?

            What if the battery powered charger was charged at this location?

            What if the battery is replaced by a capacitor, and is charged and discharged very quickly?

            I just posted on that one too.

            Have two internal batteries or capacitors....

          2. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
            Paris Hilton

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

            @anonymous boring coward

            Nice argument.

            I wish you luck in your court case, trying to persuade a judge that a switched mode power supply isn't direct mains power.

            1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

              Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

              I'm just asking them to trace individual electrons, rather than having stupid rules about batteries. That's all. Not too much to ask, one would think?

        3. shaunhw

          Powered only by its internal batteries...

          Hmmm..

          Patented "internal" power supply circuit for "TV licence get around" for impoverished university students and others:

          Have two "internal batteries" in the unit, and then charge one up, whilst watching TV or iPlayer with the other. When the charge drops, automatically switch them around... Does the frequency of switching between stored power sources count for anything ? If not you could run at several thousand cycles per second then! There's one thing which is clear - The power for the viewing would be "only by its internal batteries".

          Come on Samsung/Apple get implementing it!

          I am sick of the BBC bully boys. In this day of so many options, we should not have a TV tax...

          And yes I do have a licence.

    2. SuccessCase

      Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

      I suspect you can relatively easily determine if users are watching iPlayer "live" streamed channels, but with some important caveats. OK so packet delivery is a little mixed up, but it is on mixed up on average over a reasonably short time window. The BBC could conceivably be using pattern matching of data volume taking account of signal spread with a characteristic pattern over a time window. Adjusting for this, it wouldn't take long to get a positive ID with sufficient certitude to hold if court (there is actually a legal definition of the level of mathematical certainty required for Beyond Reasonable Doubt - and it is, if I remember correctly, much lower bar than many would think - something like there has to be better than an 18 : 1 chance of being right). Now of course you can have many other processes running and contributing to the data transmitted over your wi-fi link, like email checking and drop-box etc. which would subvert a positive match. However many people, will only be downloading a single iPlayer stream for long periods of time. All the BBC required is one positive match of sufficient length to provide statistical certitude it is the iPlayer the user is watching. That can probably much more quickly than many people might think. If we consider a randomly generated UUID a virtually unique event, it can be understood only a relatively short match will be sufficient and importantly, moreover with the right analysis algorithm the matched values don't have to be contiguous. Apologies my statistics and signals terminology is crap but I understand the principle here.

      Of course if this is the technique they are using it will take about 5 minutes for someone to market a WiFi router that masks transmitted data volume. Also I would think if you go to court, the BBC would be forced to have to demonstrate how they can be sure it is you, and therefore would have to reveal the analysis technique being used and I'm sure even if it is different technique, it will then be easy get around.

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

        there is actually a legal definition of the level of mathematical certainty required for Beyond Reasonable Doubt - and it is, if I remember correctly, much lower bar than many would think

        The prosecution would be a civil case, so the test used would be 'on balance of probability' not 'beyond reasonable doubt'. In other words, greater than 50%.

        1. bazza Silver badge

          Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

          @Rich 11,

          "The prosecution would be a civil case, so the test used would be 'on balance of probability' not 'beyond reasonable doubt'. In other words, greater than 50%."

          Wrong - TV license evasion is a criminal offence, not a civil offence. You can go to jail for it. You may not get the opportunity to pay a fine, you're simply carted of to the clink for a few months without the option.

          That's why there's so much riding on how well the courts handle future cases built on evidence collected in this new way. According to many scientists who have experienced involvement with the courts, it's a disturbing how they approach fact and 'maybe'.

          It was recently reported that it's the leading cause for women being put in jail in the UK, which is a ridiculous situation for the country to be in. It costs an absolute fortune to keep someone in jail, and the BBC doesn't contribute to the cost of their incarceration.

          1. Dieter Haussmann

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

            In April 2017, the TV license is set to be decriminalised - I think OP just jumped the gun.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

            And they can presumably watch TV for free in jail?

          3. katrinab Silver badge

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

            Bo one has ever been prosecuted based on the evidence of a TV detector, and they have never even been granted (or denied) a search warrant based on such evidence.

          4. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

            >Wrong - TV license evasion is a criminal offence, not a civil offence. You can go to jail for it.

            No you can't - some people end up with gaol time because they don't pay the fine - even repeat offenders will just get a larger fine (in England that's up to £1000). The offence itself is non-recordable (so no criminal record, fingerprinting or other nonsense applies).

            >It was recently reported that it's the leading cause for women being put in jail in the UK

            No-one has ever been given a custodial sentence for failing to pay a TV license - it would be illegal.

            Non-payment of fines is a very common cause of women serving time. If one of those is from an evasion prosecution (and there are almost always very many different unpaid fines in such cases) it will be counted as 'jail' time for TV license evasion by some Murdoch rag or other - stop reading or at least stop believing their crap.

          5. SundogUK

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

            "It was recently reported that it's the leading cause for women being put in jail in the UK"

            Do you have a cite for this?

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

        "there is actually a legal definition of the level of mathematical certainty required for Beyond Reasonable Doubt - and it is, if I remember correctly, much lower bar than many would think - something like there has to be better than an 18 : 1 chance of being right"

        If that's so it must be a relatively recent decision (last 30 years is recent - I'm getting old!) otherwise I'd never have heard of it. Have you got a citation for that?

        Where things could be reasonably well calculated such as blood groups (and no, that's not just ABO, it included a lot of blood enzymes as well) that was just quoted and the court could make up its own mind, taking into account all the evidence. However I'd have explained just what 1 in 18 - or any other number meant and I don't think any reasonable jury would convict on that.

        1. SuccessCase

          Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

          It has come, I understand, from financial cases involving fraud and there is a statistical probability as to who committed the fraud. There have been cases where whether x, y or z is found guilty or innocent is, on the available evidence, purely a mathematical probability. I remember this quite clearly but actually it stands to reason there has to be such a measure, because at some point or other it is inevitable there is a case where guilt or innocence on the available evidence comes down to a simple mathematical probability at which point a threshold has to be determined..

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

            "it is inevitable there is a case where guilt or innocence on the available evidence comes down to a simple mathematical probability at which point a threshold has to be determined."

            Not really. If you take a typical trace material investigation you're effectively saying there's a 1 in x chance of this material being found on someone being hauled in at random and asking the jury to decide if x is a big enough number. But the situation is that the defendant shouldn't have been hauled in at random, there should be other reasons to have arrested him. That should also be part of the evidence. You should have multiple lines of evidence coinciding.

            What I'm not happy with (as per Bazza's fingerprint case) is someone with a match in the records being charged and that match being the only evidence submitted.

            Basic scientific method is that you form a hypothesis (for some good reason, not at random) and then try test it by trying to disprove it. You look for tests which make it difficult for the confirmatory result to be obtained by chance.

            If fingerprint or DNA is the most discriminatory technique at your disposal then if that's your original reason for suspicion your confirmatory evidence, by definition, isn't going to be as good. If you allow for the fact that there could be an innocent basis for the fingerprint or DNA being found (including contamination in the case of DNA) then the case is actually resting on less good evidence.

        2. Steven Jones

          Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

          18:1? I've never heard of such a definition. A reference would be interesting. In any event, 18:1 is pretty lax. It would mean that about 5% of innocent people end up being convicted. That's a non-trivial proportion.

          Most of the cases I've seen which involved misuse of stats weren't down to the actual level, but a complete misconception. For example, the famous cot death case which had two misconceptions. The first being that incidents of cot death were independent (so there was no common genetic or environmental factor), and the second that even if something was very rare (even one in several million), if the activity is frequent enough some examples will appear.

          1. small and stupid

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

            A third as well - that absence of evidence of a natural cause was evidence of an unnatural one

      3. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

        Potential idea - they must have some way of interacting with the streams in order to try to match a signal to a stream.

        With that in mind, once they believe that they have identified the stream, simply kill it. If the reception stops, you have pretty good bit of circumstantial evidence. If the stream doesn't stop, move on and bother somebody else. And as for the hiccups in streams (especially if the plug was pulled on somebody else), just blame network congestion etc etc.

        Assuming this isn't just a giant hoax, of course.

    3. Timbo

      Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

      "So detector vans do not exist and haven't for decades. Instead there is a team of people sending out letters and knocking on doors."

      I would tend to agree with you...

      BUT, there are surely enough El Reg members who have smart phones and who live in the UK to able to grab a photo of one of these vans...after all, it wasn't that long ago, that some people took to taking pics of Google's Streetview Opel Astra's driving around.

      So, why not see if we can spot some TVL vans - esp as I'd love to see the twigs on it !!

      (Twigs = antenna's / aerials / bits of string )

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