snopes.com  

Go Back   snopes.com > Urban Legends > Science

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 11 June 2008, 09:59 PM
snopes's Avatar
snopes snopes is offline
 
Join Date: 18 February 2000
Location: California
Posts: 109,659
Icon104 UK television detection vans

Comment: I have just heard today that since the mid 60's the BBC has been
using "TV detection vans" to make sure that people are paying for their TV
licences. Some people think that it is an Orwellian myth started by the
BBC used to scare people. Others seem to think that there is a resonable,
scientific way to actually detect a televisions presence in a home. The
BBC is very tight-lipped on the issue. Some links on the topic are below.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pre...tor_vans.shtml

http://www.guardian.co.uk/notesandqu...-22440,00.html
Reply With Quote
  #2  
Old 11 June 2008, 10:06 PM
Tarquin Farquart's Avatar
Tarquin Farquart Tarquin Farquart is offline
 
Join Date: 20 November 2005
Location: London, UK
Posts: 16,354
Default

I knew someone who used to work for the TV license people and he told me the vans don't work.

He could have been lying though.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 11 June 2008, 11:07 PM
Andrew of Ware's Avatar
Andrew of Ware Andrew of Ware is offline
 
Join Date: 22 April 2003
Location: Ware, Hertfordshire, England
Posts: 8,017
Default

As so few homes do not have a television licence I believe that the BBC (or TV Licensing) target addresses without one and if they discover a television in use they pounce. I have no reason to suspect that they don't exist, although I have never seen one. As the new vans do not have the TV Licensing logo I may never knowingly see one.

In September there are often public information notices reminding people that if their son or daughter goes off to university with a television then they will need a licence. A television in a child's room at home is covered by the family licence, but not if the son or daughter lives on a university campus.

Hundreds of thousands of people are prosecuted each year for not have a licence so they must be discovered somehow.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 11 June 2008, 11:37 PM
Jay Tea Jay Tea is offline
 
 
Join Date: 09 October 2002
Location: South Oxfordshire
Posts: 13,909
Ponder

I've heard that the system is based on just knocking on doors at addresses that have no licence registered - the percentage of these people who answer the door innocently protesting a lack of a TV set is minimal, making 'detection' pointless (as it would be anyway - and device tracking a TV signal can be detected in turn with a very simple device and prosecution averted).

Every bugger has a telly. They know this, it's all they need to know. The BBCs new online service for archived programming is the first time i've ever felt the TV tax to be worth it. Goodbye DVDs - hello terabyte hard drives.
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 11 June 2008, 11:53 PM
Blatherskite's Avatar
Blatherskite Blatherskite is offline
 
Join Date: 06 February 2006
Location: Yorkshire, UK
Posts: 4,063
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Andrew of Ware View Post
In September there are often public information notices reminding people that if their son or daughter goes off to university with a television then they will need a licence. A television in a child's room at home is covered by the family licence, but not if the son or daughter lives on a university campus.
Every individual student living in shared accomodation needs a licence even if there's only one TV in the building. It's completely barmy!
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 11 June 2008, 11:55 PM
Richard W's Avatar
Richard W Richard W is offline
 
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: High Wycombe, UK
Posts: 26,436
Default

I'm with the faction that thinks the "vans" are just propaganda; there are so many impracticalities about the idea that it doesn't really make sense any more, if it ever did.

In the 1950s or 60s it's possible that "TV detector vans" might have detected a television, and that would have been meaningful as TVs were uncommon, but in those days, to check that the householders had no license, they'd have had to check a reference book with a printout of all license holders at least. The vans would either have had to knock on the door of everybody with a television and ask them for a license (and I've never heard of that happening - the only times I've heard of people being asked for a TV license are when they actually had no TV, which a detector van would surely have known, and hence no license at that address), or gone through this completely impractical process of looking up every address they passed. If they only used their detectors on unlisted addresses, then they would know if those properties had a TV and so would never threaten people who had none.

And given that people still have to give an address to buy televisions, which is apparently enough to spur the authorities into action as mentioned in Victoria J's post here, any "detection" would be redundant. I know that a few years ago, when I moved to Ipswich, I moved into a rented flat that had had no TV or license for several months, because it was empty, and solely on the basis that the licensing authority had no license registered for that address (despite the fact that nobody lived there, with a TV or otherwise - I hadn't a TV when I first moved in), there was a letter waiting that claimed to be a red reminder and threatened court action if the occupier - the letter was addressed to "The Occupier" - didn't buy a license.

The letter alone was intimidation of a sort that it surprised me a legitimate authority could get away with on such a flimsy basis. If they're prepared to threaten court action against indeterminate nobodies, then any "detector van" is entirely redundant.

Looking at it from the other, propaganda, perspective, consider this quote from snopes's linked BBC article:

Quote:
"50 years ago you could spot the first TV detector vans coming a mile off as the aerial on top was as wide as the van. This is the first time we have used covert vans and they will be only one part of our activities to target licence evaders."
This means that 50 years ago, to make sure that people thought "detector vans" were a viable means of ensuring they had a license, that the BBC / the licensing authority actually had to have a van with a prominent BBC logo and a large aerial on top that they could drive around to scare people. Nowadays that expense isn't worth it, so the spokesperson says that any old white van on the street might be a detector van.

The change in propaganda is more interesting, really - at first they must have tried to dazzle with technology to convince people that it was possible. Nowadays the spokesperson talks of the van being able to detect the exact room that the TV is in - I have no idea whether this is possible in theory; quite possibly if you've specific enough technology, but there's no way that it would be worth deploying that technology on this problem. I'd guess this is trying to scare people who live in shared houses or bedsits, where there may be a license for the whole address but not for each "household", or however the requirement is defined.

And people nowadays would think a prominent aerial was ridiculously low-tech so that ploy wouldn't work any more.

Last edited by Richard W; 12 June 2008 at 12:10 AM. Reason: Spelling of "aerial" and moved a clause
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 12 June 2008, 12:08 AM
Richard W's Avatar
Richard W Richard W is offline
 
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: High Wycombe, UK
Posts: 26,436
Default

Sorry, new post because I'd not read the full propaganda when I wrote my last one:

Quote:
Vanessa Wood said: "The new vans are so powerful they can tell if a TV is in use in as little as 20 seconds. And once the television is detected, the equipment - which works from up to 60 metres away - can pinpoint the actual room that the television set is in.

"However, the technology is so secret that even the engineers working on different detection systems worked in isolation – not even they know how the other detection methods work."

For the first time the detector vans will use GPS satellite technology to track down targeted addresses. This will enable TV Licensing to precisely target individual evader homes using up-to-the-minute information from its database of 28 million addresses.
That's just laughable... so Ms Wood is saying that none of those things were the case before, and yet the system worked? They can detect a TV from "up to 60 metres away"? How few TVs do they think there will be within a 60m radius? In an average town there must be hundreds within that range. The plausibility goes down the further they exaggerate the technology...
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 12 June 2008, 12:08 AM
Hans Off's Avatar
Hans Off Hans Off is offline
 
Join Date: 14 May 2004
Location: West Sussex, UK
Posts: 4,660
Default

I have also never come across a reasonable and consistent explanation of the physics behind the idea...

We did have the TV licencing raid on my Halls of Residence in my first year at uni, we were all tipped off, hilarity ensued, many people were seen running about the campus with TVs, hiding them in their cars, my friend barricaded homself in his room, our security guys put their widescreen in a laundry basket.

As for me? Well being the level headed and mature soul that I was at the age of 18, totally above hype and panic of the general public...

I buried my TV in a field next to the campus site and retrieved it the next day.


(The shame the shame....)
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 12 June 2008, 12:28 AM
Jay Tea Jay Tea is offline
 
 
Join Date: 09 October 2002
Location: South Oxfordshire
Posts: 13,909
Ponder

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hans Off View Post
in a laundry basket.

As for me? Well being the level headed and mature soul that I was at the age of 18, totally above hype and panic of the general public...

I buried my TV in a field next to the campus site and retrieved it the next day.


(The shame the shame....)
That is the funniest thing I have heard in a long long time

I thought we were paranoid hiding our stash in the roof whenever we saw a cop on campus because of rumours about 'the big bust' but burying a TV?

We never got a licence in 4 years at Uni - we must have had about 30 or 40 threat letters - ignored the lot and got pissed instead.
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 12 June 2008, 12:42 AM
stalker stalker is offline
 
Join Date: 10 July 2006
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Posts: 2,020
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Blatherskite View Post
Every individual student living in shared accomodation needs a licence even if there's only one TV in the building. It's completely barmy!
Unless it has changed recently, I don't think that's the case.

I'd just moved into shared accommodation at the start of my third year of uni when there was a knock on the door during a thrilling episode of Countdown. I even said "That'll be the TV licence people" as I got up to answer. It was. They could see the TV from the door when I opened it, so I had no chance to lie at all! I was given a couple of weeks to get a licence, and was let off the fine.
Between the 3 of us, we only needed one licence and could have as many TVs as we wanted in the place.

This page confirms it:

Quote:
I live in a shared house. It's not my TV.

If you've signed a joint tenancy agreement with your housemates, you'll only need one TV Licence to cover all the TV receivers in your house. So it's a good idea to share the cost.
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 12 June 2008, 12:44 AM
Blatherskite's Avatar
Blatherskite Blatherskite is offline
 
Join Date: 06 February 2006
Location: Yorkshire, UK
Posts: 4,063
Default

So my sister's former landlady was playing shennanigans?
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 12 June 2008, 12:56 AM
stalker stalker is offline
 
Join Date: 10 July 2006
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Posts: 2,020
Default

Unfortunately, it sounds that way. I hope the landlady wasn't taking the money for it herself!

Even if not, it's really bad. 100 odd quid is a lot of money for a student and it's not exactly pocket change for a fair few working people.
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 12 June 2008, 01:18 AM
Silas Sparkhammer's Avatar
Silas Sparkhammer Silas Sparkhammer is offline
 
Join Date: 22 September 2000
Location: San Diego, CA
Posts: 26,843
Whalephant

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hans Off View Post
I have also never come across a reasonable and consistent explanation of the physics behind the idea...
The physics is very straightforward: tvs (in the good old days) emitted a lot of RF noise. They're easy to detect.

(As early as WWII, it was not only possible to detect radio transmitters used by spies, but their receivers as well. And I believe, but cannot cite, that you could even detect the equipment if it were not being operated, just so long as the major circuits were powered.)

Even today, the technology is there. Some advertisers are working on tie-ins with configurable billboards, which will detect which radio station you're listening to in your car, and flashing ads aimed at you on the basis of marketing assessments.

If the detection vans really wanted to be sure, they could emit a "ping" and zero in on the reaction it caused in the receiver. But passive detection works very nearly as well.

Silas
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 12 June 2008, 05:39 AM
llewtrah's Avatar
llewtrah llewtrah is offline
 
Join Date: 13 December 2001
Location: Chelmsford, UK
Posts: 16,363
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jay Tea View Post
I've heard that the system is based on just knocking on doors at addresses that have no licence registered - the percentage of these people who answer the door innocently protesting a lack of a TV set is minimal, making 'detection' pointless (as it would be anyway - and device tracking a TV signal can be detected in turn with a very simple device and prosecution averted).
From experience - if you buy a TV you usually fill in details of your address (not sure if they can force the issue if you pay cash). This is matched to the TVLA database. If your name and address don't also appear on the TV licence database they send nasty letters. The system has flaws and TVLA got stroppy with me (and I doubt my case was unique).

I bought a TV, but my housemate bought the licence. I got chased by the TVLA and threatened with legal action because I didn't have a licence. I told them the household had a licence. They continued to threaten since there was no licence in my name and they evidently couldn't cope with multi-surname households. I told them to let me know when they'd call on the household so I could arrange for the press to be there.

You get similar fun if there's no licence in your name and you're buying a TV for a relative.

They also have a habit of watching households with no TV licence and looking for blue flickering light.

This link and this thread covered the TV licensing issues.
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 12 June 2008, 05:45 AM
Troberg Troberg is offline
 
 
Join Date: 04 November 2005
Location: Borlänge, Sweden
Posts: 11,580
Default

Quote:
Every bugger has a telly.
That must mean that I'm not a bugger.

Quote:
The physics is very straightforward: tvs (in the good old days) emitted a lot of RF noise. They're easy to detect.
Actually it's not even noise.

It's using the mixing frequency of the reciever in the TV. A TV needs to be able to decode many frequencies, which is costly and awkward. So, instead, they build the electronics to handle one frequency, and then they use a generated mixing freqency as a mirror point. It's a while since I learned this, but basically, through some mathematical electronic wizardry, the frequency you are recieving is moved to a frequency on the opposite side of the mixing frequency. Changing the mixing frequency is simple, so it's cheap and easy to change which frequency you are watching. It's really a very neat solution.

This generated frequency can be picked up, and they can even see which channel you are watching.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superheterodyne

I have no idea if this is actually used in the UK, but I do know that it's used in Sweden, as they advertise in TV when and where they will be, and at least a handful of friends have recieved visits from them. Here, it's not really a useful method, as they are not allowe to look into your home, so flat out denial is sufficient to get away.
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 12 June 2008, 06:05 AM
llewtrah's Avatar
llewtrah llewtrah is offline
 
Join Date: 13 December 2001
Location: Chelmsford, UK
Posts: 16,363
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Troberg View Post
Actually it's not even noise. It's using the mixing frequency of the reciever in the TV. ... This generated frequency can be picked up, and they can even see which channel you are watching.
As far as I can see that works for radio waves, so they'd need other methods to detect cable users' TV. I suppose that could be a simple as getting a customer list from cable companies if data protection permits that.
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 12 June 2008, 06:50 AM
Salamander Salamander is offline
 
Join Date: 14 June 2005
Location: Perth, Western Australia
Posts: 5,035
Australia

I just find the concept of a TV license to be really, really bizarre. Are there concerns of unlicensed TV watchers having an accident and causing people harm?

If it is a tax, why not just slap it on the purchase price of the TV?
Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 12 June 2008, 07:37 AM
Magpye's Avatar
Magpye Magpye is offline
 
Join Date: 08 December 2006
Location: Anchorage, AK
Posts: 1,260
Default

Our household has a television, but we don't watch network TV - we only use it for watching videos and DVDs. I suppose we might be able to get some channels, though we don't even have a rabbit-ear antenna, but we have never even tried it so I don't know. If we lived in the UK we'd most likely watch the BBC and pay the fee, so it may be a moot point, but what would happen to a British household that only used their television as we do now, as a monitor? Would bad reception be sufficient proof of disuse?

ETA: Or would that be nonuse?

Last edited by Magpye; 12 June 2008 at 07:55 AM.
Reply With Quote
  #19  
Old 12 June 2008, 07:41 AM
llewtrah's Avatar
llewtrah llewtrah is offline
 
Join Date: 13 December 2001
Location: Chelmsford, UK
Posts: 16,363
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Salamander View Post
I just find the concept of a TV license to be really, really bizarre. Are there concerns of unlicensed TV watchers having an accident and causing people harm?

If it is a tax, why not just slap it on the purchase price of the TV?
It's not a tax, it is essentially a subscription fee to watch BBC TV stations. BBC isn't supported by advertising, it is supported by the licence fee (hence I call it a subscription). Unless you can prove beyond all doubt that you are incapable of receiving BBC TV and don't watch recorded BBC programmes you have to pay the licence.

So, if you have a TV you have to pay the licence fee since you have the ability to watch BBC channels. Whether you actually watch BBC or not is immaterial. The fact you have the capability of receiving BBC means you have to pay them.
Reply With Quote
  #20  
Old 12 June 2008, 07:47 AM
Tarquin Farquart's Avatar
Tarquin Farquart Tarquin Farquart is offline
 
Join Date: 20 November 2005
Location: London, UK
Posts: 16,354
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hans Off View Post
We did have the TV licencing raid on my Halls of Residence in my first year at uni, we were all tipped off, hilarity ensued, many people were seen running about the campus with TVs, hiding them in their cars, my friend barricaded homself in his room, our security guys put their widescreen in a laundry basket.
I think a similar thing happened with our lot. The sole person who had a license had about 10 tvs in their room.
Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is On

Forum Jump


All times are GMT. The time now is 06:15 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.