back to article BBC's TV detector vans to remain a state secret

The Information Commissioner has ruled against a request to force the BBC to reveal the inner workings of its TV detector vans. Although most detection is done by database the Beeb still claims to maintain a fleet of vans which can tell if a particular address contains a TV. If you buy or rent a TV or buy a PC tuner card in …

COMMENTS

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TVLA myth?

"Although it is technically quite easy to detect a working TV, many people believe the vans only exist as an imaginary deterrent."

Whose comment is that? If true, then surely it's in TVLA's interest to release the info to disabuse "many people", and hence increase deterrence?

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Anonymous Coward

Sites like this one...

"It also pointed to "a number of blogs and forums dedicated to people who are dissatisfied with having to pay the licence fee.""

Ah, they mean the number of people who are still hounded by the TV Licence people who don't even want one anymore?

http://www.bbctvlicence.com/

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An agnostic bites a shill

Like others, I take this passage:

"...the broadcaster refused to give further details because if it did so it would damage the public's perception of the effectiveness of TV detector vans. The ICO agreed that if the deterrent was lost some people would not pay their licence fee..."

to mean either that the vans don't work or work inefficiently and unreliably. If the vans were fully effective, they'd be less mealy-mouthed in my opinion.

As for "They do work" by an AC. Yeah, right. I always believe shills, especially ones who spout shit like: "I'm not going to go into details ... they don't work in any of the ways that you are likely to come up with unless you are already in the business..." Oh, you're 'in the business', eh? You have secret insider knowledge denied to us mere plebs? You reckon all the techies who read El Reg are too stupid to figure it out?

I don't know whether it is easy or difficult to reliably detect a television set from several yards away. I don't know how you differentiate a glass CRT computer monitor from a glass CRT television. I don't know whether or not it is possible to detect a TV card in a computer from outside the premises. But, judging by the quotes in the article, I suspect it aint as easy as the Beeb are trying to pretend.

In my case, the TV aerial on the roof is a bit of a giveaway. That and the bluish glow behind the curtains.

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The key is in the small print.

The small print of the law states that the TV monkeys can enter your house to seize television equipment if they know that there is a TV in there because it can be heard from the street. While it is unlikely that a TV would be audible from the street under most circumstances with the help of a directional microphone and even a laser directed at a window it becomes possible to detect the audio patterns of television broadcasts. These can then be matched with known patterns from the live broadcast to show that it's Strictly Choirboy Idol or whatever that you are watching and not a radio broadcast or the audio from a DVD.

Of course there are many ways to soundproof your flat and if the precise technical details of the vans were ever to get out into the public domain it wouldn't take much brains to produce a device similar to noise cancelling headphones which sticks onto your windows.

But people would only buy them if there was some evidence to say they worked and that's what the beeb is trying to prevent here, they don't care if people know that the vans can be rendered useless, they just want there to be enough uncertainty to ensure that Joe Sixpack does not invest in one of these devices.

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Paris Hilton

Accurate Database?

We have always paid the licence in one hit, but this year decided to pay by direct debit. We now have three letters from the licencing authority. One letter thanking us for paying by direct debit, another containing the licence, and the final threatening us with prosecution if we dont get a licence.

I can only asume a 'database' error.....and am praying that no-one corrects it. I want the pleasure of being door-stepped and and telling them to take a hike, and then being taken to court. I really really want to see their faces as I present my licence as evidence.

Paris..cos one can dream

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Think TEMPEST

Hope you enjoy battery-powered telly, fed by an aerial with an LO notch filter, inside your mesh cage !

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Silver badge

[no title]

I have a TV in the living room - visible from the road and the front door. I also have no license because I don't bloody well need one legally. You can own a TV, keep it plugged in and even turn the thing on if you want, and it's legal.

If anyone has worked out how to get TV Licensing to stop sending threatening letters on a regular basis, do please tell me.

[ This week's battle is explaining to the water company that I'm not paying their water bill because they haven't got a pipe coming into my house... ]

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Anonymous Coward

How they work (I think)

I've been in the TV industry for several years and while I have no direct experience with TV detectors, from chatting with other people over those years, my understanding of how they work is as follows (this may or may not be complete rubbish) :

Traditionally, a synthesised tuner (which is what you find in an old TV) locks on to the signal by generating an internal signal that matches the frequency its trying to pick up (I don't know the details - my RF knowledge is very poor). This signal leaks and gets passed back up the aerial. It is this signal (and I am sure there's more to it) that the TV detectors pick up. There's also the noise that the CRT display and supporting circuitry itself generates.

However, my further understanding is that these days, there's a problem! Modern digital tellys don't use the above technique for tuning; they tend to contain digital tuners that lock on to the signal by FFT techniques (ie - mathematically, using a microprocessor). They don't actually contain an internal signal generator any more. So that sort-of knackers it up for the TV detectors. The other issue is that it's all LCD panels these days and while they are electrically pretty noisy, the noise is, for all practical purposes, impossible to decode with any certainty.

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Unhappy

@Master Baker

Sir, you owe me a new keyboard and monitor...

Seriously though the government and bbc need to wake up and realise that its 2008 if advertising revenue is good enough for 99.99% of channels around the world why does the UK need publicly funded channels - especially those that the majority of people with a telly in the UK no longer watch!

Yes i'm licenced but no i have not watched the BBC (or listened to their radio broadcasts) for several years - mainly because the quality of programming has gone down and the fee has gone up.

Counting up the number of people in my family that i know can state the same comes to 38 of 42 people - its futile but WAKE UP BBC you have lost and are continuing to lose viewers...

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Easy

Parabolic microphone, easy

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Alien

I can exclusively reveal

That TV detector technology is based on a microscopic black hole-driven subatomic polarised wave filter developed using parts from a crashed alien spacecraft. Unfortunately it doesn't work that well on viewers that don't have much brain activity, which basically makes it useless for finding viewers of daytime ITV.

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@Master Baker

Don't you know that databases are never wrong? ;-)

A few years ago I didn't have a tv. The licensing authority harassed me to distraction despite me informing then of the fact. One day an inspector came around - I sent him packing. Then another came demanding access to my home. A third and then a fourth. I sent them all packing with an instruction to get a court order. That was the last I heard.

A couple of years later I moved out of my house and rented it out. The tenant bought a licence.

A couple of years after that, the tenant moved out and I moved back in. Among the mail popping through the letter box were demands for a tv licence. I politely informed the authority that the tenant had moved out and I was now the incumbent, but without a tv. The letters kept coming, but were addressed to the "occupier" instead. It made no difference that I informed them I had no licence and so, the merry-go-round with threats and inspectors began once again and continued until a few months ago when my girlfriend moved in with her telly. Now being the very conscientious type, she insisted that she bought a licence....much to my annoyance.

Their database is often wrong; their tactics are threatening, unreasonable and intimidating. I dislike the licensing authority with passion.

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Dan
Black Helicopters

@They do work, and @Richard

Right, I've got it. Putting together the info from the two posts above, I'm thinking they have got some kit but not the techie stuff everyone here is thinking of. How about: a telly in the van, a newspaper TV guide and one of those directional mics that looks like a handheld radar with a set of headphones. Bloke in van listens on mic for audio being emitted from a house. If audio matches anything that is on TV (courtesy of his portable and copy of TV Week), bloke can double check target property by observing which house has fluctations in the lighting (observable from outside) to match what's on his telly, or the telly of a nearby house (which may or may not have a license). Bingo. Bloke knows they have a telly, and can even (see @They do work) tell which programme is being watched.

Or maybe they are full of sh1t and simply match the DB records with all available houses. Talking of which, it would be interesting to know what percentage of properties have a license, and see a demographic map of 'offender' concentrations UK-wide.

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Revenue Earner

We have a TV licence but that doesn't necessarily stop the threatening letters.

A year or so ago we bought a cheap LCD TV to watch DVDs on in the bedroom. As it was bought on the OH's card, we gave her details. Within a month we were getting letters saying "We notice you do not have a TV Licence *under your name* at the above address", even though we have a licence under *my* name at the same address.

I can only imagine that they want to trick stupid people into buying a licence for each occupant of the household. Nice revenue earner, that.

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Anonymous Coward

Anyone checked the DPA registration?

If I remember correctly, this TV licence operation is run by a contractor (Which possibly explains why collection costs so much).

Since this contractor has a database of names and addresses, surely they should be registered under the Data Protection Act (although an exemption from registration might apply).

In any case, whether or not the database needs to be registered, they'll be covered by Schedule 1, which requires them to ensure the data is correct.

If somebody genuinely doesn't have a TV, has notified the collectors, and still gets threatening letters, wouldn't the DPA be a potential remedy?

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Anonymous Coward

Of course, if their detector vans worked...

...they'd be able to detect that I wasn't watching television either. And then stop sending threatening letters to my empty flat.

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They're so effective

that they kept detecting the TV set I didn't actually have. Once a month on average for about a year. "We have detected the television you are using, sir!"

Have you. Have you really. Impressive, perhaps you actually picked up me thinking about that nice 52" LCD? Now that's effective...

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Flame

TV licensing is ridiculous

I live in halls at uni, recently EVERYONE in the entire hall received a threatening letter that basically said 'YOU DO NOT HAVEA TV LICENSE SO PLEASE PAY US SOME EXTORTIONATE SUM OF MONEY' with a tiny bit at the bottom for if you don't have a TV. I was very pissed off when I had to phone them to tell them I don't have a TV too (I watch tv via bittorrent...)

It isn't even a good quality service you're getting for the license fee, as it only pays for the BBC.

If I had the choice I would opt out of receiving BBC channels and not pay the license.

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Black Helicopters

Shs? WTF @ SHS

<Quoth Reg.>

If you buy or rent a TV or buy a PC tuner card in the UK your address is passed onto TV Licensing

<Unquoth Reg.>

How the heck is that supposed to mean anything in a caught @ law?

The law is that 1 licence must be held for the TV or tuner at any address used. It doesn't have anything to do with the ownership and it can't prove the set was used is usable. Nor does it indicate the premisses where it might.

I believe they can obtain the set/card but I imagine not before you pass it on or break it. Or pay the TV tax.

And WTH is going to put a signature on anything that indicates otherwise? Not that it applies to me. I buy second hand or from computer shows. (Plus: I have a license.)

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Just wondering

but, if I were to use my tv to only watch freeview (I only use it for gaming and dvds), then would I still be required to pay a tv licence? Surely the whole "free" in freeview means just that. And on another note, why can I watch most of the decent programmes for free on the internet? Seems pointless to pay for it at all.

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Silver badge

@ Damn Yank

'You have to pay a license fee for over-the-air television??'

It's a small price to avoid being told to ask your doctor about irritable bowels which appears to be the only way American TV is funded these days.

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Waiting for the van - does Godot drive it?

Even if you reply to their nasty "YOU DONT HAVE A LICENSE - PAY UP RIGHT NOW OR ELSE" letters, they still send around a guy to check that you really don't have a TV.

Now many years later, I don't respond and don't let them in - I'm waiting to see a TV detector van parked outside my house.

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Boffin

@Electrons...

...are not alpha particles (nor indeed are they beta particles, before you start). Moreover, the emmissions of electrons, along with x-rays, are so miniscule you'd have extreme trouble detecting either at a distance of 1 foot.

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Paris Hilton

@AC who said..

"....and a nice large LCD TV to use them with. True I could plug in an aerial and watch TV if I really wanted to - but I don't - I can't stand the majority of the trash that is on these days - those seasons I do like I simply buy boxed sets once they come out."

So, you still have to pay for a TV license regardless of whether you plug an aerial into it or not. The law states that if you have a device capable of receiving BBC broadcasts then you must have a license. A device capable of receiving BBC broadcasts is called a tuner and there's one in that LCD telly of yours that has to be licensed. Oh, and when you say "can't stand the majority of the trash that is on these days" then you mean that you do in fact watch some telly then. Suspect it is moronic US imports by your use of the word 'trash'.

I for one am happy paying my tv license, without it there would be no Mighty Boosh, QI, Buzzcocks, Planet Earth and a million other high quality, watchable TV programmes, not forgetting the radio programmes that the license also pays for.

Freeloaders! }:-(

Paris because that's what watching brain mushifying US import TV does to you.

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Paris Hilton

A few points

My uncle was a postmaster in those pre-Internet days - he told me that the detector van in his yard was empty - they relied on the list.

However, the MoD wouldn't go to the trouble and expense of installing Tempest cages around their equipment just for nuclear blast EMP protection, would they? When I had a room integrity test to do on one of their refurbuished rooms, the operators in the adjacent working room were sent on a tea-break.

Meanwhile, spare a thought for all those people in house shares - if the landlord doesn't pay the fee, then every individual tenant is meant to have one. Fortunately the licence database doesn't go into that detail, so one licence surfices, albeit with the tenants being at slight risk of discovery.

Paris because no-one else has yet!

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Vans == scam

As mentioned, the old vans used to pick up on the radiation emitted by CRTs. No that everyone has Plasma and TFTs, they are essentially useless. Looking at the database for people not paying the fee, and then chasing them down, is far more effective...

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Coat

It pays...

The license fee pays the wages of Russell Brand and Jonathan Toss.

Keeping these two talentless, offensive twats in beer and scratchings isn't something I want to pay for.

Likewise Strictly Cum Prancing, EastBenders, Wholly Shitty or any of the other inane crap that fills the schedule.

Some of BBC2, 3 and 4 is worth watching, but there's so much money wasted on the lowest common denominator that I'd rather see the license fee abolished and the BBC have to compete like any other broadcaster for the advertising shekels.

Mines the one with the taser in the pocket, for when they come knocking...

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@simon painter

"The small print of the law states that the TV monkeys can enter your house to seize television equipment if they know that there is a TV in there because it can be heard from the street."

What a load of bollocks.. that <em>might</em> get them a warrant but TV licensing 'officers' have no warrantless right of entry under any circumstances...

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Rob
Paris Hilton

@ Simon Painter

"Of course there are many ways to soundproof your flat and if the precise technical details of the vans were ever to get out into the public domain it wouldn't take much brains to produce a device similar to noise cancelling headphones which sticks onto your windows."

IIRC, it's even easier than that. I'm sure I recall reading a novel, many years ago, where the protagonist circumvented directional laser mic eavesdropping by simply gaffer taping a vibrator to the window...

PH because - well it's obvious, isn't it?

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Boffin

How it works

As has been mentioned in other comments, the receivers in TVs are super-heterodyne type receivers, which have one or two (depending on designers choice, normally two) Intermediate Frequencies. These are well known because the filters need to be reasonably tight and thus are produced by third parties and thus reasonably standard.

The detector vans simply have very sensitive equipment that listens on those IFs with very directional aerials.

Easy.

Analogue or digital, doesn't matter... it all goes through the receiver;

The 'tuning' occurs aerial side of the mixer; the IF is a fixed frequency the other side.

With good enough equipment, they could feed the received IF into a TV and watch exactly what you're watching!

As for the 'detect the detector van' comment... their IF would match the second IF in your TV, so would be extremely difficult to detect! Best bet would be to look out the window!

And for those who claim that there isn't enough signal to get that far... I've successfully used 50mW over a distance of 7 miles on UHF, through normal brick walls, with no problems. That's about the same power as a reasonably bright LED.

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Anonymous Coward

I bought a TV

and got a threatening letter because there is no license held in my name at the property.

I phoned them up, explained the g/f has one and it is a single occupancy house. I didn't provide the license reference as I couldn't be bothered looking for it.

I then raised a complaint based on the data protection act (a property needs to be covered by a licence, it is irrelevant whose name it is in as long as it is current. Houses with separate occupancy are different but they will be registered as such)

I have since bought two additional TVs and not received any more threatening letters. So the answer to getting taken off the list is to provide the correct data and then make a complaint under the DPA should they continue to threaten you.

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@Damn Yank

Yes, we have a licence fee, it funds the BBC and helps helps keep adverts down (the BBC only show trailers for their own stuff and not in the middle of programmes). Contrast this to something I saw in the US a couple of months ago, with a running time of 152 minutes and occupying three and a half hours. By my reckoning that's just short of an hour of adverts for two and a half hours of programme.

Having said that, the licence authority are a bunch of offensive bastards who don't understand that some people really don't have TVs.

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Boffin

Spouting Rubbish...

Stop it! its not CRT's!

Remeber an article a few days ago about eves dropping on wired keyboards? ever wondered how that worked?

its all about crystal oscilatiors... and leakage.. TV tuners leak associated frequencies which can be detected allowing you to determine the exact frequecny being recieved. it still works with digital (as a block of channels is on one frequency) and videos, pc cards etc.. but, and this is why its gone quiet, it can also detect other emissions from other devices with oscilators, ie most PC's, Phones and pretty much most digital equipment. including keyboards! and pretty much any network device!

(note this is about detecting a tuning crystal, not a transmitting device, but a device that leaks)

Tin foil on stand-by!

AC because they dont want you to know, that they know what you know...

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Black Helicopters

Of course...

maybe the real reason for them denying this request is so that the plebs don't find out what the vans are *really* capable of / equipped for detecting...

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to line my house with tinfoil (just to help my fuel efficiency, you understand).

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Strange Country we live in

@AC who posted;

"A DVD player, a PC, a console or two and a nice large LCD TV to use them with. True I could plug in an aerial and watch TV if I really wanted to - but I don't - I can't stand the majority of the trash that is on these days - those seasons I do like I simply buy boxed sets once they come out."

How do you know which seasons you do like, and how do you know it's all trash if you don't actually watch a TV?

Anyway, I would love to know how many people who complain about the licence fee actually pay for Sky?

I can only comment on my situation, but it's an interesting comparison, so bear with me.

I have a SkyHD box in my living room and a Sky+ elsewhere in the house (moved it elsewhere when I got my SkyHD).

If you have a Sky HD box with a full+movies(or sport)+multiroom+HD subscription then you're paying £58 per month. (£38 for Movie or Sports World, £10 for Multiroom, £10 for HD). That works out at £696 per year. (Fcuuuuuuuk. Didn't realise it was *quite* that costly!)

Agreed, you do get alot of content for that, including alot of crap, but the majority of that cost is down to the Movies part of the subscription, which is comparable in price to something like a top whack lovefilm subscription. And I'm pretty happy now they've made every movie channel HD+DD5.1.

However, movies aside, when you look at the quality of what you get as part of your TV licence (BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, BBC4, BBC Radio, BBC HD, BBC Internet / Podcasts, BBC iPlayer etc.. etc..), not to mention the management and maintainence of Freeview and Freesat (They are the majority shareholders in both) then the £139.50 isn't actually that bad.

From my point of view, I only keep the sky subs going because I want the movies, and I'm happy to pay for it, along with the kids channels for my kids. If I didn't want those, I wouldn't pay for sky as apart from movies, 99% of my viewing is BBC or Channel 4.

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Detector vans

I used to live in the East End and, about twice a year, they'd park a 'detector van' prominently in the local Asda car park. The local post office would get a big rush of sudden licence purchases and then the cycle would repeat six months later.

I looked in the van out of curiosity and aside from the vaguely-arialish roofrack there were just two obviously mocked-up consoles that were probably straight off a sci-fi film set.

So it is just for scare value and the database rules: as has been said they'd use more obvious technology like a directional microphone if detection was the goal.

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Does it still work...

As has been pointed out, it is - or at least was easy to detect TVs. The equipment simply sensed the high frequency signal mixed with that from the antenna in the superhet. A superhet receiver works by having a very narrow bandpass downstream filter carefully tuned to a specific frequency that was created by this mixing process. This means any downstream electronics only have to work with a very narrow frequency range simplifying the design.

TV detectors simply worked by using highly directional antenna tuned to the range of frequencies generated by the mixer signal. The frequency of this mixer signal tended to give away which channel the TV was tuned into (hence all those TV ads designed to scare would be license fee avoiders - "we can even tell what channel you are watching").

This worked very well in the says of old fashioned valve superhets with lots of wires and other stuff to broadcast the mixer frequency. One has to wonder if this works so well with modern electronics. Firstly the electronics to do all this is heavily miniaturised - does one of those little USB tuners or battery powered TVs really broadcast enough mixer signal to be detected? Secondly, is the tuner circuitry so simple these days - in radio, there are moves to software definable tuners. Maybe not yet for TV frequencies, but who knows.

Other techniques, such as detecting line and frame rate signals to the TV tube are less satisfactory and almost completely unworkable in the move to flat screen (and how do you tell that the picture actually comes from a broadcast signal).

So maybe the real secret that they want to protect is that detector vans don't work any more.

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@Martin Milan

As another ex TV owner (it died and we never bothered to replace it) I agree that the .biz site is so helpful to us folks that get constantly harrassed by TVL letters and other dirty tricks.

Note that the BBC does not mention thier TVL staff assaulting disabled members of the public and forcing entry, masqerading as other businesses and asking what washing machine, microwave, TV you own.

Mind you the same dirty tricks are played by the water board - I have managed to convince two OAP's that they DO NOT have to fill in the "questionaire" provided by the water board to all residents on this estate. The results are used to force people to install a water meter it has nothing to do with reducing water rates (as the people handing them out were telling the poor old sods when given the questionaire at the door step).

Effing crooks the lot of em!

Jacqui "I don't have a TV!" Caren

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Alert

Aaron Kempf proved right

It turns out that the databases are coming. Heaven help us.

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Black Helicopters

Yes they do work..

Yes TV Detector Vans do work, they always have but as one poster as already mentioned they do not look for what you think they are looking for and I am also not going to say exactly what this is for the same reason as the other poster other than to say that what they look for and how they do it is quite obvious really when you think about it.

A TV only RECIEVES a TV signal but it does give out other emissions and it is these that they look for.

The TV dectector vans have always been able to detect a telly if it is on however as some other poster has already said the knack is to pick out the target from all the other tellys in the area. The aerial on the van and the hand held units they use is highly directional and it will only detect in a very narrow band along the axis that the thing is pointing. A bit like a long distance directional microphone.

The old grey vans could detect your telly but they were useless which was why they used to have TV DETECTOR VAN written in big letters down both sides. They used to park them up in town where everyone could see them and the word would get out that the detector vans were in town and everyone without a TV licence would crap themselves and go out and buy a licence. As they used to drive around the council estates with the van the man in the back used to wind the DF handle in the back that spun the aerial around to make it look as though they were detecting things as everyone knows from what they saw on TV that an aerial rotates like a radar dish when it is detecting things but the chances are that as soon as they pulled into the estate, unlicenced TVs all over the estate would get switched off as kids ran home to tell mum and dad that the TV van was driving slowly up the street with the aerial going round.

It was all scare tactics and the way they used to actually catch people was to visit houses without a telly licence and listenin for the sound of the telly or look for the glow on the curtains before they knocked on the door. That was why they used to call on a night. The van could detect the TV but the chance that they would be detecting for you watching BBC1 when you were actually watching BBC1 and it was your telly that they picked up was a little bleak and they might need to drive down the street a few times by which time you had probably turned the telly off. Once they had caught you though for evidence purposes they would go out of town with a battery powered portable TV, sit it on a wall and drive past it to get the "evidence" they used for taking you to court.

The new vans are indeed much better but rely on the same principles however the equipment is more compact and they can simultaniously scan a lot more channels at the same time where as the old ones scanned a channel at a time. They can tell which channel you are watching by what they detect coming from your TV and they can tell which room the telly is in due to the highly directional nature of the scanning gear. They have to point the equipment directly at the telly for it to detect it so they can say it is upstairs in a bedroon because they had to point the aerial at the upstairs of your house etc.

You dont see the vans as often now because they dont need to park them in the centre of town to scare people. They have a database that tells them who has a license and who does not and they now send letters out and send people around to visit. The vans are now deployed simply to detect rather than to scare people and are used as a last line of enforcement.

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Anonymous Coward

@ Dan

Dan you are not far from the truth. the techie kit they use works a bit like that but a whole lot more technical.

They catch most people by simply listening at the door or looking at the light on the drawn curtains before they knock.

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Flame

All this talk of CRT detection is toss

What a load of crap, I tell you right now there never has been and never will be a TV detection service.

I don't need to post this anonymously but I didn't pay a TV licence for over 5 years. The minute I looked into getting cable TV flag went up on database and I had a reminder that I needed to get one.

This guff about detecting CRT based televisions is toss as well. Distinguish the alpha frequencies between a CRT TV and PC Monitor? Nobody and I mean NOBODY who has trained with enough technical skill to even be able to tell the difference between the two through several feet of concrete, steel struts a drive way and a main road is going to be willing to take a job that dull and that shit.

They never existed they never will exist and the BBC should not be in control of the so called licence fee.

You honestly trying to tell me that the entire BBC is solely funded from the TV licence? Is it fook, it wouldn't even cover the cost of wages for a quarter. So they already get money from elsewhere without the use of advertising so they can stop taking mine to produce a load of free to air radio signals that I can pick up however the fuck I like. You can't charge for a wave.

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Pirate

They're not from the

Ministry of Housinge, are they?

I'm very observant, you know.

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Only need a licence if you watch live

I got hassle from the TVLA in ~1992, 2003 & 2007. The last lot of mail was extremely offensive, beginning from the assumption that I was breaking the law. Only on page three was the possibility entertained that I didn't have one of the damn things, and then I was invited to "update their database", after which they would come and check! However, despite giving them neither my name nor my telephone number, eventually I got a phone call, from a guy who was extremely polite, and began with "I presume you don't have a TV?".

As I gather that they have got even more aggressive now, my line is that I do not intend to apply for a licence NOT to have a TV.

There was an OUT-LAW article in El Reg in early 2007 that I can no longer find a propos of watching football live on your computer at work (not that any El Reg reader would do such a thing). As the technologies cannot be kept apart indefinitely, I contacted Kim Walker of Pinsent Masons. The gist of his advice was that you only need a licence if you watch LIVE, not from an archive. He referred me to their web pages at

www.out-law.com/page-6993 7465 and 7504

I also contacted the BBC, basically to find out whether I was welcome to read their news website. (This has annoyingly more and more video on it, usually consisting of some ugly politician or journalist talking to a camera.) Going via the BBC website got no response, but then they launched the trial for the archive, so I subscribed to that essentially as a way of getting an answer to my question. I got a personal, but anonymous, reply that also said that I only needed a licence to watch TV LIVE, and in particular not to participate in the archive trial.

Obviously you should not take that as legal advice, but I can forward these reponses to anyone who needs them; contact via PaulTaylor.EU

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Silver badge

@ various ACs

Owning a TV DOES NOT mean you need a license. You need a license to "receive live broadcasts". And that's on ANY equipment.

So, you can watch iplayer on your laptop fine. And you can play games on your telly. But you can't watch LIVE STREAMING tv on your laptop and you can not receive any signal, from any broadcast source, through your TV, TV card, Sky box, Virgin box, freeview box, or anything else.

I wish people would stop continuing this myth that all 'plugged in' tvs need licenses or that PCs and laptops don't need them.

If you can see what the BBC / ITV / Sky / etc are broadcasting, at the time they do so, then you need a license. If not, then you don't.

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Silver badge

I can't believe I'm quoting Wiki...

According to Act of Parliament, a TV licence must be obtained for any device that is "installed or used" for "receiving a television programme at the same time (or virtually the same time) as it is received by members of the public".

According to TV Licensing, "You need a TV Licence to use any television receiving equipment such as a TV set, digital box, DVD or video recorder, PC, laptop or mobile phone to watch or record television programmes as they're being shown on TV".

Specific exclusions not requiring a TV licence are:

* digital box used with a hi-fi system or another device that can only be used to produce sounds

* television set installed and used solely for some purpose other than watching or recording television programmes (e.g. closed-circuit TV monitor, DVD or video player or games console)

* If you are only watching on-demand services, after programmes have already been broadcast, you will not need a TV licence. (This includes the BBC iPlayer service.)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Television_licensing_in_the_United_Kingdom#When_a_TV_licence_is_required

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Silver badge

There are good reasons ...

The purpose of all the letters is to demonstrate how expensive it is to run the TVLA, and to justify their fee. Real TV detector vans are possible, but not cost effective - the idea is to get people to pay whether they need to or not, not to get proof one way or the other. The BBC could have opted for encrypting their digital service. I assume they did not because the expect to get more revenue by bullying people into paying for a service they do not want than be selling decryption cards to only the people that want them.

Switching to an advert funded service has problems. The adverts have become louder to reach people making tea. So loud that turning the sound off is a requirement - if you do not have the kit to skip past the adverts. TV advertising does not lead to much in the way of sales, and businesses are catching on and moving their budgets elsewhere - to the point where commercial stations cannot afford to broadcast anything but cheap crap. That leads to fewer viewers and even less value to adverts. Look for commercial broadcasters lobbying for a slice of TV license pork.

I recommend opting out of the license fee, and spending the money saved on DVD's instead. At least that way, you get to choose what you pay for and you do not have to pay for repeats. It's not like there is any real journalism from BBC - remember end of the world stories when they were testing LHC with only one beam?

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Black Helicopters

TEMPEST

TV detector vans work using a principle called TEMPEST (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TEMPEST). Most of the research for this stuff is military and classified - hence why the BBC are reluctant to give up information about it. Essentially any modulator generating signals tends to give off unintended signals (either radio waves, or signals coupled onto power cables). The radio waves can be picked up from a reasonable distance away and reconstituted onto a screen without too much difficulty. You need to have some fancy kit to cope with problems with timing signals (vertical hold for example gets completely shot on old analogue signals, and digital signals are crammed full of noise). Presumably for modern digital signals, you just pick up the signal and run a correlation with the source - that would almost certainly be enough evidence for beyond reasonable doubt. You wouldn't try to create a picture since modern encoding schemes tend to make error recovery poor.

From what I recall, on old analogue sets, you aren't picking up signal from the CRT per se, but instead from the modulator that drives the electron guns. Similarly, it was possible to pick data up from graphics cards etc. Because data rates are high, the modulation frequency is high, and these things are damn tricky to shield effectively, so tricky in fact that government and military establishments (especially in other countries - like the UK embassy in Moscow) spend a lot of money shielding equipment, or placing them inside Faraday cage rooms.

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Flame

@AC

"So, you still have to pay for a TV license regardless of whether you plug an aerial into it or not. The law states that if you have a device capable of receiving BBC broadcasts then you must have a license."

More bullshit FUD... You have to be using it to recieve a signal not just have the capability...

I can't work out if this comment section is full of shills or muppets...

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Anonymous Coward

(untitled)

The sooner they gain the sense to stop harassing folk and fund it from general taxation the sooner the whole fiasco can be put into the past. All it needs is an agreed algorithm to indicate the funding for the year.

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