The Mosquito: why it really sucks

Yesterday a campaign was launched to ban a device called the Mosquito, which emits a high-pitched sound audible only to young people, intended to disperse groups of them who loiter in public places and cause a nuisance. Small shop owners say they are effective against such groups and protects the public from them. The “Buzz off” campaign is backed by the children’s commissioner of England and Wales, Al Aynsley-Green, who lays out the fairly obvious disadvantage: that they are indiscriminate.

While a few years above the age group that would be affected, I agree with the commissioner’s analysis:

He said: “These devices are indiscriminate and target all children and young people, including babies, regardless of whether they are behaving or misbehaving.

“The use of measures such as these are simply demonising children and young people, creating a dangerous and widening divide between the young and the old.”

The device does not sound constantly, but is activated when it detects people nearby and turns off after 20 minutes; it can be heard over a distance of 15 to 20 metres and becomes annoying after 5 or 10 minutes.

I would not object to this device if it could be turned on whenever trouble is perceived, rather than just whenever people enter the area of the shop, whether they are coming to hang around or to buy things from the shop. If someone agrees to a meeting outside a shop, just because it’s a safe place due to being routinely observed, they could be disturbed by the sound and maybe even miss their meeting. I do understand how threatening loiterers can be, even if they do not intend to be. I once complained to my MP because a subway near my house was being routinely used as a hanging-out place by youths, even though they never deliberately menaced me.

However, my real objection is that I vividly remember being a teenager and how unpleasant it is to be lumped in with yobbos on the basis of being in the same age, the same class or the same living quarters at boarding school, often people over whom I had no control. I remember how bitter it was to be punished for someone else’s shoplifting when I had no connection with it or them, and unlike the person dishing out the punishment, I actually had to live with them.

On top of this, it should be remembered that causing a public nuisance is a specific offence in itself, and activating a device designed to annoy a section of the public is surely just that. Anyone who plays music loudly which causes a disturbance to people would get a noise abatement order and face prosection if they persisted. Surely these campaigners should use the law to get these devices removed, or at least modified so that they do not cause indiscriminate distress to law-abiding people, young or old, rather than resorting initially to unpopular human rights legislation.

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