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 …

  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.


      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 Silver badge

              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

            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

                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

              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

            " counsel I encountered on either side [of any case] displayed a knowledge of 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.

          8. Wayland

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

            BT Hub with the FON signal.

            When we moved into a new place I used a TP-Link router in Client Repeater mode to hook into a neighbours BT FON service for free. It was good enough for YouTube and gave repeated WiFi to the hole house.

            I expect that BT could provide records that showed the public FON hotspot was the source of the traffic but I would not want to rely on that. Could they really convict based on the fact of bytes being moved at a high rate for a prolonged time?

        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

          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

          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 Silver badge

          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. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          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 , 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
            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...


          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.

            1. Wayland

              Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

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

              It maybe true that no one has been sent to prison as a punishment for watching TV illegally but that does not mean they don't have that power. They chose to issue a fine. They might jail someone for stating in court that they won't pay it. That would be jail for contempt of court but they could be released still not paying the fine.

          5. SundogUK Silver badge

            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?

          6. Wayland

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

            "Wrong - TV license evasion is a criminal offence, not a civil offence."

            Watching TV is actually illegal, it's a crime.

            People don't usually see it this way up. They invert it to make the absence of a licence the crime. The crime is the watching of the TV broadcast and the licence is the waver of any criminal prosecution.

            Watching TV is still a crime but you'll be OK with a licence.

          7. StargateSg7

            Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

            Going to jail for watching Television?

            If they tried THAT over here I can DEFINITELY TELL YOU, there would be some HANGINGS and SHOT DEAD lawyers, judges and government officials ... We don't eff around over here! You try and send people to JAIL for watching TV, YOU'RE DEAD !!!

            YOU BRITS NEED TO GET SOME GUNS and start HANGING PEOPLE for crap like that!

            The 2nd Amendment Forever !!!

            Over Our Cold Dead Hands !!!!

            "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

            Thomas Jefferson, 1787

      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 )

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed


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

        I dunno about this new kit, but I saw ads in a specialist equipment catalogue about 15 years ago showing a handheld unit for TV LO detection. It really needs on a small amount of electronics, so long as the quality of the design is good.

        So there was no van as such, just some bloke wondering around the outside of your house carrying something. Give it a smallish antenna with a little bit of beam shape, and a skilful operator would be able to pick out which house, flat, etc was emitting an LO.

        This new kit would require nothing more than a laptop and a slightly directional antenna on a WiFi card, so it's eminently portable.

        AFAIK detection of a TV LO from an unlicensed premises gave them cause to enter the premises to search for the TV they already know is there.

        Assuming they'd do something similar, quite how they intend to prove that a locked phone/laptop had been used to watch BBC I don't really know. Perhaps they can go and get an ISP intercept warrant under the terms of RIPA to back it up.

        I shudder to think about that. If we're going to have to have comms intercept in this country to support law enforcement, it should be used only for things that really matter (mass murder, terrorism, etc). Even then it's never going to be a popular tool in the eyes of the general public, at best a necessary evil. However using it for putting people away for skipping their TV licence would be nuts and would severely tarnish the relationship between even the most ardent supporter of law and order and the people who's job it is to enforce it.

        Especially as the BBC could easily use a pay wall type arrangement as suggested by others on this forum whereby you have to enter your license number before they'll send you a stream. That would be non-contentious, easy, and cheap. Getting all RIPAed up for the sake of it is effing ridiculous.

        1. Andy 115

          Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

          "AFAIK detection of a TV LO from an unlicensed premises gave them cause to enter the premises to search for the TV they already know is there."

          Except they had no legal footing for entering said premesis (unless they managed to dupe te occupant with lies) Their only option was to apply for a warrant, which rarely happened as they weren't prepared to submit their "evidence" (detector van fairy stories) for scrutiny by the court.

    4. x 7

      Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

      "So detector vans do not exist and haven't for decades"

      Yes they do, I saw one six months ago in Morecambe. Whether it works is another question...........

    5. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

      Detection vans can identify viewing on a non‐TV device in the same way that they can detect viewing on a television set.

      Translation: In the same way that TV detector vans are a hoax to scare the hard-of-thinking, this is too.

      1. Infernoz Bronze badge

        Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

        Yes, it was always ridiculous farce and BS for analogue TV because of various technical reasons too boring to list. Non-CRT displays and Satellite TV only made it even more ridiculous. The idea that this can be done for more complex, _encrypted_, WiFi just takes the farce to the next level! It's all deceptive FUD to trick people to self-incriminate themselves; if you don't write and sign anything, they are powerless!

        I get letters, but don't use their junk media 'services' at all, but am getting very very bored shredding this fake-legal junk mail.

        Frankly the BBC is obsolete, broke it's charter many times (like the EU fails it's yearly audits) and needs to be shut down as a waste of time and currency, so that it and it's agents stop doing fraudulent mischief. BBC, please just die already!!!

    6. Oh Homer

      Our chief weapon is fear...

      Threats don't need to be plausible in order to be effective, they only need to be possible. The Beeb is relying on the fact that a significant proportion of their target demographic will give up without a fight in order to avoid any trouble.

      This is why racketeering works so well.

    7. pcoventry

      Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

      One drove past my house in Sheffield in 2009 it was a blue Leyland DAF van with white writing.

      Maybe it didn't exist either.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

        Maybe you saw a normal Van and you're just an idiot.

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed @AC

          So called TV detector vans did really exist and used to be technically feasible in the days before digital TV, but they were largely a psychological instrument of FUD. As a previous commentor said, many of them were probably non-functional and just for show, with a deliberately obvious 'antenna' on the roof to make them visible.

          My Mother-in-Law claimed to have seen one in the last couple of weeks, but I'm not sure whether she could really differentiate one from, say, a satellite installer, or another van with a transport tube on the roof.

    8. TheVogon

      Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

      "So detector vans do not exist and haven't for decades"

      Yes they do.

      However the vans are a visual deterrent only and not actually operational at all.

    9. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Once upon a time detector vans existed

      About fifteen years or so back I worked in the same building as those developing detector van equipment for the post-analogue TV world. They had a test van that they used to park near colleagues houses in the evening sometimes then they would ask them the next day "were you watching {x} last night at about 8:45?" - this was some of the early testing and I never heard them get it wrong. Also, those being "tested" knew how the system worked and would try various tricks to see if they could defeat it. Those tricks didn't seem to work.

      I'm not sure if the new system for detecting iPlayer works the same way, but it could, and so obviously I am going to post this anonymously to avoid wrath!

  2. Alan Penzotti

    Hardwired connection

    This may be a great opportunity to used hardwired connections in your flat.

    1. DF118

      Re: Hardwired connection

      Someone didn't read to the end of the article!

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hardwired connection

      I don't live in a flat.

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: Hardwired connection

        "I don't live in a flat."

        So, haywired connections then?

      2. nerdbert

        Re: Hardwired connection

        Ever heard of Powerline Ethernet? You don't need to wire your flat, just plug one into an outlet, connect to your router with a standard ethernet cable, then plug another into the wall near your TV and ethernet to that. Fast, simple and no WiFi to leak. Great if you're a gamer, too, since the latency is lower.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: Hardwired connection

          Where's all this packet sniffing paranoia sprung from? Didn't spot any mention of any such computer misuse in the excerpt from the report. Quite the opposite in fact. In the words of the report:

          "Detection vans can identify viewing on a non‐TV device in the same way that they can detect viewing on a television set.

          So that'll NOT be sniffing packets then.

          I reckon the fiendishly crafty scitechnowombles are probably pointing a telephoto lens with a photometer stuck on its arse at our windows, then attempting to match fluctuations in the luminance of your flock/woodchip/nets/whatever with the live "luminosity profiles" they'll be generating for each of the channels of shit they're transmitting at us.


          1. katrinab Silver badge

            Re: Hardwired connection

            How many different progs are available on iplayer at any one time, each typically about 30 or 60 mins long, and you could be watching any part of it at a given time? This includes some films which you can buy from other sources, they get shown on BBC a long time after they go on sale on DVD.

    3. Dave Bell

      Re: Hardwired connection

      Not iPlayer, I think, but a lot of the streaming video boxes are WiFi only.

      On the other hand, the ancient idea of the detector van depended on the signals emitted by an old-fashioned CRT TV, such as the frequency generated in a superheterodyne frequency, and the scanning signals needed by the CRT technology. All that has changed.

      Wifi is at a frequency which doesn't need so big an antenna for the same directional resolution. Many of the image of detector vans go back to the days of 405-line black-and-white, which needed an aerial some fifty times bigger. A simple stick antenna, totally non-directional, could have been a metre long. It couldn't be something compact.

      Now it can be.

      I suppose there might still be some radiated signals from some of the display electronics, but can you tell what is being shown on the screen? How do you tell the difference between a live picture and a computer game or a movie on recorded media?

      I don't have much confidence in the sources for this story. And, to be honest, I sometimes have doubts about the ability of specialised technical journalists. But I think you are at least asking some of the right questions.

      One thought: does this mean that WiFi security can be broken in real time? Is it as safe as we think?

      1. RavingDaveD

        Re: Hardwired connection

        Actually, in the old Analogue broadcast TV days, the detector vans picked up the individual house tv's local oscillator signals being radiated from the house aerial (stray RF from the LO). As the vans knew which TV transmitter a particular area would be using to receive TV (and so the frequency of each channel, BBC1, 2, ITV etc for that area) and TV's used standard fixed Intermediate Frequencies for IF processing before demodulation to baseband composite video, the LO frequency picked up by the van told the operators which channel a particular house was watching This had nothing to do with the display type (e.g. CRT). To detect whether it was a colour TV in the premises (for those watching UHF) would have required the van to detect the 4.43MHz (in the UK for PAL system I) sub-carrier/LO - not sure whether they did this though.

        1. lorisarvendu

          Re: Hardwired connection

          "Actually, in the old Analogue broadcast TV days, the detector vans picked up the individual house tv's local oscillator signals being radiated from the house aerial (stray RF from the LO). "

          Quite a few decades ago I remember watching a news item about how the same technology could be used to eavesdrop on any CRT screen. This was demonstrate by a couple of boffins sitting inside a darkened detector van parked outside a High Street bank and picking up a fuzzy picture of a banking terminal. The point was made that picking up bank details in such a way wasn't illegal - until you actually used the information gained. I've no idea what programme this was (though I seem to remember it was a BBC 6 O'clock news article) or when it was, but this article seems to bear it out:

  3. DF118

    "Which you should, by the way"

    ...only if you actually watch it, by the way.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: "Which you should, by the way"

      "if you actually watch it"

      Given the iPlayer is their own web site, why not just tie access to the TV licence?

      You know, allow a couple of IP addresses or player ID strings, etc, per day from a given license and job done. Most UK broadband users will still be behind IPv4 NAT anyway so multiple devices in a home will appear as a single IP address.

      1. tirk

        "...why not just tie access to the TV licence?"

        Because then licence fee payers would be able to watch the BBC when abroad? No, too much like a useful service, not happening.

        1. Jan Hargreaves

          Re: "...why not just tie access to the TV licence?"

          Some of the programming is not licensed for viewing abroad, so they can't do that even if they wanted to. They would have to get all the third party programme makers to agree to worldwide licenses which they don't want to do because they sell their programmes seperately in other markets.

          I see no reason why the BBC can't tie iPlayer access to logged in accounts, while still blocking access from non UK IP addresses (Don't Sky Sports do exactly that?). You seem to think the two things are mutually exclusive?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "...why not just tie access to the TV licence?"

          >Because then licence fee payers would be able to watch the BBC when abroad? No, too much like a useful service, not happening.

          Just use a dynamic DNS service (SmartDNS etc) like millions of foreigners without licenses - you need one to subscribe to HBO Go, Hulu, US iTunes etc from the UK anyway - unless you fancy the outrageous cost of the same shows/movies via Sky.

  4. Thought About IT

    Same old, same old from the Telegraph

    The Telegraph's been waging a war against the license fee for years and this is just another tactic. They're almost acting as agents for Murdoch, who has an obvious reason to defund the BBC, but I think it's just part of this right wing ideology which demands that any successful publicly owned institution be sold off to their mates.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Same old, same old from the Telegraph

      The Telegraph's been waging a war against the license fee for years and this is just another tactic

      Really? Scaring the gullible* into coughing up strikes me as helping rather than "waging a war against" the fee.

      * It's not exactly practical to execute, as the main article explains - and the whole idea would IMHO create problems with UK's Brexit negotiations as it conflicts with EU privacy laws which presently still happen to be in place..

      1. Nifty

        Re: Same old, same old from the Telegraph

        1. Telegraph's a bitter rival of the Murdoch empire.

        2. Telegraph's TV and radio review/preview section gives a lot of positive press to the BBC.

    2. FuzzyTheBear

      Re: Same old, same old from the Telegraph

      Alternative is to stop the licensing nonsense and just fund the BBC with income taxes within the country's budget and say bye bye to the snooping.

      Don't tell me you can't levy a bit more taxes from your multi billion dollar profit making banks and the richest of your country that keep you poor on purpose of making good slaves out of you :)

      Reach into their pockets for once and publically fund the BBC like we do with the CBC


      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: Same old, same old from the Telegraph @Fuzzy

        It needs to be funded separately, from sources not directly controlled by the Government.

        This is so it can maintain some sort of independence from the Government, especially when it comes to news coverage, and not be accused of being a mouthpiece for whichever party is in power.

        1. Darryl

          Re: Same old, same old from the Telegraph @Fuzzy

          "accused of being a mouthpiece for whichever party is in power."

          That's not a problem. The CBC is a mouthpiece for the Liberals, regardless of which party is in power.

    3. John Lilburne

      Re: Same old, same old from the Telegraph

      Any one riding the bus without paying the fare should be kicked off. I'd do it at the ISP level.

  5. Sampler


    When I first bought my home (prior to emigrating) I was hounded by the BBC for years to pay a licence for something I did not own, the letters are really very intimidating.

    Riddle me this though, in an age of digital media, where's the pay wall? Both boardcast television and online can sit behind paywalls, you have you TV licence, you put your details in, and watch away. Rate limit to concurrent devices and you prevent someone sharing there licence with the entire street.

    Accurate viewing figures plus demographical data slurped from the user account coupled with device connection string identification gives a treasure trove of data they usually spend a ton on too,

    There's simple no need for such an archaic structure anymore.

    1. Novex

      Re: Hounded

      I was thinking the same thing. The BBC already has a log in system for saving favourites data within iPlayer (on Android at least) so all they need to do is add identification relating to address and licence number to that, and a way to verify it, and then the ability to use iPlayer could be restricted to those with a valid licence.

      As for detector vans, the only way they could effectively have ever worked would be if there was someone inside snooping on the sound coming from a home with a fuck-off sensitive unidirectional microphone. Listen for whether a TV is on and playing anything, check the address has a licence, if not prosecute. The same technique could be used for any device, as long as it was playing audio over speakers. Headphones might be harder to detect audio from.

      1. Primus Secundus Tertius

        Re: Hounded


        During my time in the defence industry I learned that the old CRT displays radiated signals that could be picked up by nosey foreigners lurking nearby. I therefore assume the old detector vans were looking for those EM signals, and did not need to detect sound waves.

        Special CRTs could be bought at enormous prices, and they were also jolly heavy, that did not radiate thus. TEMPEST was a buzzword.

        Of course none of this applies to modern computer screens or plasma screens: they place pixels in arrays instead of doing a raster scan.

        There was another story that the old detector vans were really looking for illicit radio signals from foreign spies.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Hounded

        "As for detector vans, the only way they could effectively have ever worked would be if there was someone inside snooping on the sound coming from a home"

        No, as Bazza has pointed out the local oscillator, at least with the old valve sets, churned out a fair amount of leakage. Knowing the local channel frequencies and the IF of set (which were standard but I can't remember what that was) you could not only detect the set but identify what it was tuned to. I suspect modern sets might not be so verbose.

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Hounded

      Riddle me this though, in an age of digital media, where's the pay wall? Both boardcast television and online can sit behind paywalls

      You might want to read the BBC's charter and look up the legal definitions of things like "conditional access".

      1. bazza Silver badge

        Re: Hounded

        You might want to read the BBC's charter and look up the legal definitions of things like "conditional access".

        Except that access is already conditional - you have to have a license. There's nothing really fundamentally wrong with the idea of demonstrating license ownership when you connect online. If the BBC's charter somehow prevents them instituting such a check-on-connection, then I say the charter is a pile of old bollocks.

        As far as I'm concerned this new trick of the BBC's is a terrible way of solving the problem. Its inevitable inaccuracy will result in inappropriate prosecutions and risks miscarriages of justice, which is the most appalling thing that can ever happen to someone. And if that ever happens, I can't see the BBC paying out appropriately for broken families, ruined lives, destroyed careers.

        Given that a license check on connection would be completely accurate and very, very cheap to administer (plus getting all that lovely viewership data for free), that's got to be a much better way of solving the problem of making sure people pay up.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Hounded

          Great idea (paywall), but... Administering a vast database of users? Implementing the technology? Dealing with customer service complaints? Far cheaper just to scare people out of their cash.

        2. RavingDaveD

          Re: Hounded

          Seiously wrong - the TV vans worked by picking up the LO from the TV's first stage receiver. Could easily tell which channel was being watched.

          1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

            Re: Hounded

            Oh yes, the technology worked that way, but the detector vans themselves never existed. They were pure propaganda designed to scare people into paying up.

    3. Steve Evans

      Re: Hounded

      And that is basically how their entire systems works at the moment... A simple database query...

      Licence expired, and not renewed = Nasty letter

      New TV purchased and no letter (because the BBC are told the address of all new TV purchases) = Nasty letter.

      With the introduction of this iplayer enforcement, I can only assume they're just going to do a comparison of the licence database with the royal mail database, and send a nasty letter to everyone not in both.

    4. TheOtherHobbes

      Re: Hounded

      >the letters are really very intimidating.

      They are, but they if you get enough of them you see they repeat after a while.

      I haven't had a TV since 1992. I stopped getting letters when I told the license people that I lived in a very pretty part of the world, and a visit would be a nice day out for them.

    5. Stuart Castle Silver badge

      Re: Hounded

      "Accurate viewing figures plus demographical data slurped from the user account coupled with device connection string identification gives a treasure trove of data they usually spend a ton on too,"

      The fact a set happens to be showing a given programme does not tell you how many (if any) people are watching it. The set could just be on in an empty room, or it could be showing a programme to an audience of 100.

      1. Robert Baker
        Big Brother

        Re: Hounded

        "The fact a set happens to be showing a given programme does not tell you how many (if any) people are watching it."

        Sadly not relevant. The exact wording of the TV licence is that it is a licence to receive TV broadcasts — which is why it's a crime to watch TV without a licence, even if you only watch non-BBC channels. And which is why (contrary to what the TV Licensing Authority heavily imply in their adverts, whilst being careful not to say it outright and thus open themselves to challenge) it isn't a crime to use a TV set solely as a monitor for a games console or DVD player or whatever, as established by a test case (in 1984, appropriately enough). It is also why you need a colour TV licence to use a TV recording device, even if your actual set is only B&W — because the recording device isn't.

        The fact that a TV set is receiving broadcast TV in a particular household is enough to require that household to have a licence; whether that set actually has a human being attending it is neither here nor there.

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          Re: Hounded

          I'm surprised, in this day and age, that they still make a distinction between colour and monochrome receivers.

        2. MrZoolook

          Re: Hounded


          "The fact a set happens to be showing a given programme does not tell you how many (if any) people are watching it."

          Sadly not relevant. The exact wording of the TV licence is that it is a licence to receive TV broadcasts


          To be fair, that comment was referring to a previous comment about how requiring a licence number to even recieve the iPlayer stream, would help with accurate viewing figures rather than them just plucking an estimate out of thin air. It wasn't actually attempting to argue that an unwatched TV was exempt from the licence fee requirement at all, which is what you appear to think it was saying.

          Personally, I think the argument the BBC is neutral, and must remain neutral, and that is why they must be funded in this fashion, is old, tired and irrelevant. It gives them licence to produce a never ending stream of vomit with no reason to improve because they know they don't need to... they get paid, whatever happens.

          They should bloody well be forced to produce quality programming, and if that means them having to source income on an equal footing as other broadcasters, then so be it. Sure, I understand that ITV, C4, and Five all get a percentage of the fee nowadays. But the fact that they didn't originally, and all of them thrived using advertising instead of TV licensing, should be enough to prove that it's a viable option.

          Of course, at least under this current system, those without a TV have a good enough excuse no to pay. Which is better than the way the BBC wants and was floated in parliament by the Culture Secretary of the day. They wanted to scrap the TV licence entirely, in favour of a broadcast tax, which would be administered to every household regardless of if you even had a TV, similar to the broadband investment tax that BT wanted to introduce.

          Yeah, because that just seems so much better...

    6. Richard 12 Silver badge

      I got exactly one letter.

      In the years that I did not own a TV, I got one letter.

      I ticked the box saying that I did not own a TV and sent it back.

      I did not receive any more letters at all, and nobody came to knock on my door.

      In other words, it worked exactly as it should.

      Five or six years later I bought a TV and set up a TV licence Direct Debit. A bit of paper turned up with a licence number on it. TBH I've no idea where it is now.

      So did you tick the box?

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: I got exactly one letter.

        @Richard 12

        Have you any idea how unpopular it is round here when you come up with facts?

      2. Graham Dawson Silver badge

        Re: I got exactly one letter.

        I ticked the box. I got another letter six months later. Ticked the box. Another letter six months later. Repeat ad nauseum.

        I chuck them in the bin now.

        1. Robert Baker
          Black Helicopters

          Re: I got exactly one letter.

          "I chuck them in the bin now."

          Bad, bad thing to do.

          You should chuck them in the recycling. ;-)

  6. Zakhar


    “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” (Arthur C. Clarke)

    1. m0rt

      Re: Magic?

      Which version, though?

      Sympathetic Magic or Spirit aligned?

      What about the diiferent dressing requirements? We talking goats' blood or human sacrifice? Does necromancy even have a place anymore? Please let us not start arguing over Staffs and Wands, who gives a necro-crap what stylised piece of wizardry you walk around with. They all allow the ether-gods the ability to summon you at every opportunity...

      1. frank ly

        Re: Magic?

        I'm just glad that the detector crew don't ride around on white horses. Does a scythe blade make a good WiFi antenna?

      2. hplasm

        Re: Magic?

        The BBC should know not to annoy techno-mages...

        1. VinceH

          Re: Magic?

          Well, it does sound like they're on a Crusade.

  7. Shadow Systems

    How to fek with WiFi scum.

    Turn the inside of your domicile into a Faraday Cage such that none of your inside WiFi signal can be detected beyond the walls. Anyone trying to "Sniff" your WiFi from outside gets a whopping helping of fek-all to chew on, since *YOUR* WiFi signal won't be among the signals for them to detect. The only way they can get to your signal would be to either shove an antenna in through the mail slot (so it's inside said F'Cage), or to get you to leave a door or window open so the F'Cage is rendered ineffective.

    Bugger that. Bugger them. They want to sniff something then let 'em snort up another line of coke off a hooker's belly again.

    Damn spooks... *Shakes a palsied WiFi signal detector* Now get off my pron!



    1. The Original Steve

      Re: How to fek with WiFi scum.

      Like the sentiment.

      However I fear at least some people will want other RF to come in such as mobile phones and radio...

      Know what you're thinking - just no dedication some people!

    2. Doctor_Wibble

      Re: How to fek with WiFi scum.

      > Turn the inside of your domicile into a Faraday Cage such that none of your inside WiFi signal can be detected beyond the walls.

      Great idea but it will all refllect back inwards and cook you from the inside out if you are not careful so the only way to be safe is to get an extra-large industrial microwave oven and live inside that, making sure it's tied in to switch on when your wifi is active so it cancels out the signal.

      The best way to do this is have everything activated only when the door is closed from the inside - after getting that sorted you won't have to worry about anyone bothering you.

    3. jonfr

      Re: How to fek with WiFi scum.

      You can on many WLAN hardware turn the power levels down to minimum. It is not always possible. The other option is to turn off WLAN and just use LAN.

      I don't pay a licence in the UK. But I do so in Denmark and if you own a computer or smartphone and have connection to the internet you have to pay a licence fee. You even have to pay a licence fee if you just own a radio.

      1. Alien8n

        Re: How to fek with WiFi scum.

        That's basically the Caswell manufacturing plant (used to be owned by Marconi before it got bought by the telecomms company I used to work for). All the administration buildings were built from ironstone which as they discovered made a pretty good Faraday cage. No mobile signals inside the building and none of the DECT phones would work outside the building (by which I mean not even when leaning up against the wall).

  8. short

    "Detection vans can identify viewing on a non‐TV device in the same way that they can detect viewing on a television set. "

    As in, 'not'. Them's weasel words. You've got a list of addresses without licenses.

    Anyway, I use wires and fibres, and have a license, I just don't like the hostile letters.

  9. Shane McCarrick

    Talk about jumping to conclusions

    Packet examination to look for typical video streaming?

    Good luck with that one.

    Most people I know use VPNs and legitimate subscriptions to stream from the US and Canada- on a daily basis- how on earth is someone supposed to determine what is a legitimate video stream, and what constitutes a stream which triggers a demand for license fees?

    Someone somewhere thinks they are being very very clever- when in fact they haven't a notion what they're up to.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Talk about jumping to conclusions

      Someone somewhere thinks they are being very very clever- when in fact they haven't a notion what they're up to.

      Pretty much sums up the Daily Torygraph.

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Talk about jumping to conclusions

      "Someone somewhere thinks they are being very very clever- when in fact they haven't a notion what they're up to."

      At my place of work we just call them managers.

  10. MrDamage Silver badge


    Everyone, charged with an offence, has the right to confront their accuser.

    In this case, the accuser is a magic box, full of "secret" hardware and software.

    Challenge it in court, demanding full source code so it can be audited by independent 3rd parties. Once it is entered into court records, ot becomes public knowledge for all and sundry to learn, and code around.

    Rinse and repeat every time they change the magic box.

    1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Re: Rights

      You seem to imagine the BBC / TVL has a habit of dragging people into court. In practice the only time it will get to court is when the accused has admitted the offence.

      They know that everyone 'watching TV' without a licence has at the back of their mind that there could be a knock on the door one day and a finger pointing asking, "What's that?", "Where's your licence?".

      Determined individuals can get by without a licence when they should have one because it is not about getting any particular individual to pay or having them punished, it's about getting everyone else to comply with having a licence.

      Mind games and low-hanging fruit does that job and that's the game they are playing.

      1. King Jack
        Thumb Up

        Re: Rights

        @Jason Bloomberg you are correct. Relations of mine just moved into their new home and had the TV on when they received a knock at the door. It was the licence enforcers and they saw the TV running. They then prepared some paperwork for them to sign. When they read it, it was a confession of guilt so they refused to incriminate themselves by signing it. Without your confession they have no case just their word against yours. They never got summoned to court. In fact nothing happened.

  11. a_mu

    how long is not live

    Ignoring the detector van thing

    was wondering how long a delay make a stream none live,

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: how long is not live

      That won't be relevant Real Soon Now. The licence conditions are changing to include ALL iPlayer streams, live, catch-up and archive material. Other non-live stream services will NOT be affected.

      They're trying to plug a loop hole in a scary and likely non-effective manner.

  12. David Roberts


    Given that we can't even afford enough police to come round and check on a break in - just enough to issue a crime number over the phone so you can claim on your insurance - how would this cost in?

    Allegedly most of the original TV detector vans worked on FUD. Just cruised around the streets with a van with big metal bits on the roof and everyone panicked because "magic" and rushed off to buy a licence.

    Perhaps a bit of newspaper article FUD and some Eastern European on minimum wage who puts temporary "TV licence detector" signs on the white van and drives round the estates when not delivering packages.

    Probably worth mailshotting estates with "TV license detectors are in your area. We can make your house undetectable for a low, low price on simple monthly payments". Then either sell them a black box with a small heater element inside or subcontract to a local electrician to wire the house with Ethernet. Or flog them some Home Plugs. The possibilities are endless.

  13. AustinTX
    Big Brother

    Unique packet patterns

    Live iplayer streams could be made identifiable by manipulating packet lengths. They would initially be set at a particular, unusual length. After a set interval, they would change to another. And another. It would be a unique pattern like a serial number. One even could sniff encrypted packets and simply measure them by size and note the pattern. This would tell the spy exactly what program was being watched.

    I'd go with the Ethernet option, but the Faraday cage works, too. One might be able to confuse the spy by playing two separate iplayer streams at the same time.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Unique packet patterns

      Would running a script to change the mtu on your wifi connection every few seconds ( say 1450-1500 ) nullify this?

    2. chris 17 Silver badge

      Re: Unique packet patterns


      In addition to or instead of packet length, packet frequency


      better still packet length and frequency of dud packets there just to be recognised as forming an identifier.

      VPN's do have mechanisms to guard against identifying and snooping in this way, but once unencrypted the tell tell identifiers will be visible again.

      I wonder if the detector kit will be sensitive enough to read Ethernet at a distance, like old spy kit?

      Like the article suggests, if they know where you live all they really need to do is tap your incoming line and look for streamed Iplayer, or just ask your ISP to let them know every time you go to Iplayer, like if you go to a banned site.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Unique packet patterns

      Strange that the BBC think that everybody on the internet plays by the rules, probably too much public school education.

      So I need a little black box on my in-house network, a raspberry pi will do. This black box needs to proxy my https/http data stream. Add a bit of packet assembly/disassembly, or even IPV6 may do and your unique signature goes away, before I re-transmit it on my WiFi

      I just need to point my browser at my in-house proxy.

      What happens if somebody starts to sell such a device, well if the BBC don't disclose the method its hard to prove wrong doing. In fact such a system could be included in the router firmware.

      The black hats of the internet have proved that there is no fool proof way to protect content, like encrypted DVDs. I give the BBC about 7 days before somebody figures out how this works and provides the tools to subvert it.

    4. Shadow Systems

      @AustinTX, Re: multiple signals.

      Do the Faraday Cage idea so your actual signal is unavailable. Mount a disguised WiFi antenna outside the F'Cage & have it broadcast an open, unencrypted, unsecured, open to anyone, severely limited bandwidth (to discourage use), public signal... That only lets them connect to the Goats.Cx guy or similar images.

      You'll be able to tell when some scumbag connects to your Public trap by the screams of agony, begging for mercy, & sobs to make the visuals stop.

      Take THAT you WiFi signal sniffers! I hope it makes your eyes bleed & your brain run out your ears! MUH Hahahahahahahahahaha


      Ummm... I mean... Uhhh...

      On second thought this is probably A Bad Idea(tm). Their next of kin might hunt you down & abduct you to pull a "Clockwork Orange torture scene" maneuver on your arse. Bad bad bad, yucky yucky yucky, icky hacky ptui Blargh.

      Nevermind, I'll go away now & dream up some other way to torment Big Brother.

      *Pure, Sweet, & Innocent smile*

  14. Benny

    Eeny, meeny, miny, moe

    So how do they know which SSID belongs to me?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Eeny, meeny, miny, moe

      So how do they know which SSID belongs to me?

      Good question. Some guesses: directional antennas? Skyhook WiFi data leaked by your mobile devices (which could also confirm ownership data)?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Eeny, meeny, miny, moe

      yet another reason to just leave your wifi wide open. In this day and age it genuinely seems like the best solution.

    3. VinceH

      Re: Eeny, meeny, miny, moe

      "So how do they know which SSID belongs to me?"

      Because we're all going to be really helpful and change our SSIDs to show our postal addresses, aren't we?

      1. Doctor_Wibble
        Black Helicopters

        Re: Eeny, meeny, miny, moe

        > Because we're all going to be really helpful and change our SSIDs to show our postal addresses, aren't we?

        No need, location features (or others when these are supposedly disabled) on devices ensure they already have this via ad/search/analytics providers, whether by a broadcast SSID or the non-broadcast one you are using at the moment, all easily tied together by frequency of usage of that node, orders, delivery addresses etc and if it's wifi direct from your modem/router box then there's likely to be giveaways there too.

        Just because we can't see an immediate direct link does not mean that the all-seeing and more importantly all-remembering bingoogly overlord has not just cross-referenced you with that time when you accidentally clicked 'email image' instead of 'save image as' which triggered a nicely identifying query to at least a couple of places so they can give you a convenient login icon complete with tags.

        [ e2a: and the 'feature' noted by nil0 above ]

    4. nil0

      Re: Eeny, meeny, miny, moe

      Following on from,


    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Eeny, meeny, miny, moe

      I'm sure there are plenty of companies out there that hawk lists associating people with specific SSID's used by their devices - all those 'free' apps and games on your mobile phone that need permission to access all your devices contents and connections will easily be able to associate your mobile number (which can be traced back to an individual account owner and their details such as home address) with the SSID it commonly connects to.

  15. Rono666

    What if you don't use the wifi? Or you could use vpn proxies and download other things if you watch, i don't watch tv Propaganda i can live without.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      In general it's easier just to pay the fee, something the majority actually does.

      When I lived in the UK I found out at some point I'd been paying it twice (when you travel a lot, cleverly spaced out withdrawals are not that visible - I assume they learned that trick from credit card thieves) and I never had the time to correct that until I left so I feel justified in now watching via VPN - I'm one of the few who actually paid for it and now Top Gear has gone the way of the dodo I'm watching less and less.

  16. frank ly

    Sir Amyas

    "BBC staff were able to demonstrate this to my staff in controlled conditions sufficient for us to be confident that they could detect viewing on a range of non‐TV devices."

    I bet that was easy. After all, the BBC controlled the conditions. He sounds like a yes man.

    "... the BBC has ruled out combing its own records of computers that have logged into the iPlayer website ... this would be an inappropriate invasion of privacy."

    What?? A website owner can't use their own logs to determine which IP address has been used by site visitors, even if legal infringements are suspected? What's the reasoning behind that?

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Sir Amyas

      "A website owner can't use their own logs to determine which IP address has been used by site visitors, even if legal infringements are suspected? What's the reasoning behind that?"

      ISPs who don't hand out static addresses.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: Sir Amyas

        And Carrier-Grade NAT.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sir Amyas

      What?? A website owner can't use their own logs to determine which IP address has been used by site visitors, even if legal infringements are suspected? What's the reasoning behind that?

      Separation of duty (and reputation). The BBC has no legal remit to go after people who evade license fees, so it has in principle an obligation of confidentiality re. the logs (not to mention it would otherwise get entangled with law enforcement, and I suspect some internal left leaning parts would soon put a stop to that). The reputation thing is also easy: by farming that job off to a 3rd party, it's not the Beeb who does it, but the government. You are to conveniently forget that (afaik) the BBC is the main beneficiary of that exercise..

  17. Peter Prof Fox

    Spy on the screen and loudspeakers

    If I was a 'detector' I'd listen for the Eastenders sig-tune coming from 23 Railway Cuttings.

    Don't flat screens emit decodable electromagnetic radiation? Surely that would be the 'best' evidence. How it could be proved in court is another matter.

    I'd have thought the general brightness of a TV programme could be fingerprinted so the flickering through curtains could be a give away.

    However. You don't have to let them in... so don't. Ignore the letters. (Not had a telly for 19 years and I wouldn't have one if you paid me.)

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Spy on the screen and loudspeakers

      Ignoring the letters is just stupid.

      Tick the box, post it back and they will not bother you again.

      1. Robert Baker

        Re: Spy on the screen and loudspeakers

        "Tick the box, post it back and they will not bother you again."[citation needed]

        That's not my experience, nor that of at least one other poster in this forum; doing that merely changed their frequency of bothering me from once a month to once every few months.

        I finally got fed up and slung all their letters in the recycling unopened.

      2. Anon the mouse

        Re: Spy on the screen and loudspeakers

        Same here. They never stop sending letters. I'm looking forward to their "visit", I've even changed my wifi to "No_TV_Licence" so they can tell where I am.

    2. Anonymous Noel Coward

      Re: Spy on the screen and loudspeakers

      I'm fairly sure Hancock and Kerr have better taste.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wonder...

    "Detection vans can identify viewing on a non‐TV device in the same way that they can detect viewing on a television set"

    Maybe they mean "exactly" the same way, which may have nothing to do with packet sniffing.

    On one of the many anti TV-licence sites there was a story that claimed they were "using/trialing" a technology that matched the changing optical patterns in a room due to a display to that of broadcast TV programmes being transmitted/streamed at the same time.

    I suppose the advantage would be you wouldn't need to directly view the display and possibly be able to monitor from a distance without alerting the home-owner.

    How that might work out for low-power/small displays such as tablets/phones who knows, even assuming there's any truth in it.

    Of course as the wags pointed out, just close the curtains.

    1. Ivan Headache

      Re: I wonder...

      "On one of the many anti TV-licence sites there was a story that claimed they were "using/trialing" a technology that matched the changing optical patterns in a room due to a display to that of broadcast TV programmes being transmitted/streamed at the same time."

      I doubt that would work seeing that no two devices in our house show the stream in sync.

      Two freeview sets are about 2 seconds apart and my main PC is another two seconds later with the ipad different to all three - (this was when F1 was on the BBC and I needed to have it on in every room - just in case)

      1. Oldgroaner

        Re: I wonder...

        How about these anti-burglar devices that mimic the patterns of a TV?

        1. Tezfair

          Re: I wonder...

          "How about these anti-burglar devices that mimic the patterns of a TV?"

          My neighbour has one across the street, it's fake as hell as it unbelievably obvious it's not a TV due to the colour changes being far too slow to represent a TV

      2. Vic

        Re: I wonder...

        I doubt that would work seeing that no two devices in our house show the stream in sync.

        DTT devices should do - there is timing information in the transport stream to synchronise playout of both audio and video against the clock reference. This is how lipsync works.

        That said, I've fixed the ST-derived tree[1] at all but one device manufacturer independently. It wouldn't surprise me to find out that other reference trees have similarly glaring bugs...


        [1] Through the most unbelievable piece of cut-and-paste fuckwittery, the audio and video streams were both synced accurately to the 27MHz reference oscillator, but not to each other or to the reference timestamps. So you could watch a wall of TVs in Dixons, each one playing out audio and video at different times :-)

    2. Richard 12 Silver badge

      "Exactly the same way"

      Meaning they don't exist either.

      The simplest explanation is normally correct.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I wonder...

      > at the same time.

      There's a variable 10-20 second delay in streamed "live" broadcasts, so any claims about realtime magic are highly suspect. This alleged wunder-tech has all the marks of the "UK constitution" - it works because "they" say it works, and the default position of the normalisation of state sponsored surveillance is a tech-gasm, no matter how far fetched it may seem.

    4. Kiwi
      Black Helicopters

      Re: I wonder...

      On one of the many anti TV-licence sites there was a story that claimed they were "using/trialing" a technology that matched the changing optical patterns in a room due to a display to that of broadcast TV programmes being transmitted/streamed at the same time.

      Could be partly feasible in the sense of overall pattern timing (especially the extra brightness of certain adverts (assume you have those annoying brightness/volume boosts over there as well).

      But I wonder if a cheap set or two of Christmas lights strung up in the window could defeat this? Or having a Lava Lamp on the inside of the curtain?

      Course, you could use the system NZ used some years back - abolish the license completely (well it was that or give some of the money to the competing stations...)

  19. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    This is all ridiculous. It sounds like a black art, and not a very consistent one either. So the BBC are going to invest a sum of money to:

    - rent some vans

    - develop some hardware and software in the detector vans

    - pay some people to drive around

    - train these (or other) drivers in the use of the above technology

    - pay for fuel

    And these people are going to drive around, waiting outside addresses that haven't paid for the TV licence and hope that:

    - they're actually currently watching live TV or catchup TV on BBC iplayer

    - they use wifi

    - they can point their detected at the wifi access point with some accuracy

    - the wifi access point is "visible" from the ground

    And all this while ignoring the fact that the technology used can change at any point and the obvious fact that the exact sort of people who don't pay their licence are likely to attempt to evade detection.

    The chances of actually detecting anything, combined with the cost of the project, make it all sound like a bit of a poor bet for the BBC.

    And all this talk about matching packets with packets transmitted is bollocks, isn't it? For a start, a user can hit pause for a minute.

    Would it not be simpler to insist on using the TV licence number and a password as a login, and limit it to 10 devices?

    It just all sounds lie a really stupid idea. It's pure fantasy . It's expensive, unwieldy, brings up legal ramifications, and susceptible to overnight irrelevance when some technology changes.

    1. ShortLegs


      "And these people are going to drive around, waiting outside addresses that haven't paid for the TV licence and hope that:

      [s]- they're actually currently watching live TV or catchup TV on BBC iplayer

      - they use wifi

      - they can point their detected at the wifi access point with some accuracy

      - the wifi access point is "visible" from the ground[/s]"

      -the person will sign a document that admits to watching broadcast TV without a licence; which happens all too often.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Other broadcasters

    You need a UK TV licence for any live TV - not matter which UK company transmits it.

    Not sure where the line is drawn if you only use satellite, or live streaming, to watch stations originating outside the UK. I suspect you still need a TV licence.

    However it was said the other day that the change will only apply to BBC iPlayer. Apparently it will NOT require a licence for the ITV, C4 etc catch-up services.

    1. Tommaz

      Re: Other broadcasters

      Correct only BBC iPlayer. the truth is buried in the TV Licencing website and has some digging out.

  21. chris 17 Silver badge

    4g phone plugged directly into tv hdmi

    I'd like to see them detect a 4g phone outputting Iplayer to a tv via hdmi.

    1. John Miles

      Re: 4g phone plugged directly into tv hdmi

      If signal anything like it is around here - by the screams of frustration

  22. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    I've just found this newspaper article

    which, despite it being in the Faily Fail, seems to be well written and actually quotes sources. The TV detector vans do just seem to work by transmitting intimidation.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sigh. Leaked local oscillator detection is a well established practise in many fields where adversaries square off in the electromagnetic spectrum. Trust me, detecting the LO of a TV is an easy challenge, both then and now. Consumer goods are designed down to a price and all they need to do is pass the EMC emissions standards tests, not defeat the capabilities of a state-funded signal detection equipment.

      There's been an electronic arms race between cops and radar speed trap detectors. Cops put up radar speed traps. Someone builds and sells a simple radar detector. Cops get a bit of kit for detecting the detector's LO leakage to nab drivers for use of an illegal item. The detector makers change their designs to suppress LO leakage (e.g. good shielding, circulators between antenna and mixer). Cops get more sensitive equipment. Detector designers add little waveguide stubs in their antennas to put notches at their LO frequencies, better filters, better circulators, better shielding, etc.

  23. Charles Smith

    BBC Viewers

    They are probably trying to detect those people who pay the BBC tax but don't bother to watch the current mix of dire new BBC programmes and decades old repeats. Expect warning letters if you don't watch your quota.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: BBC Viewers

      The licence fee is not a tax.

      1. TheTick

        Re: BBC Viewers

        Yes it is, it's classified as a tax which is why people can be criminally prosecuted for it.

        I believe this will be changing next year however.

  24. YeahRight

    I have actually seen a detector van! In the mid 90s parked ostentatiously between Bristol's Eye Hospital and the bus station miles from any residential area. Y'know, where lots and lots of people would see it. It looked like some pre WW2 experimental Bakelite radar contraption.

    Anyway, if live streaming is the target of the Beeb's attention but catchup services are ok then a solution for the determined content thief springs to mind. How about a box that receives live streamed data and stores it for a minute or two, or a second or two, y'know just to smooth out the buffering, and then sends it on its way to the crim's screen. All technological mumbo jumbo aside what would the legal case against that person look like? If it's not live, if it's delayed by a certain amount of time then it's ok?

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Said box is then the live receiving equipment

      So if you own it, you need a TV licence.

      And if someone else owns the box and streams onwards to you, they're breaching copyright.

      If you want to watch TV, just get a licence.

      If you don't, don't. It's very simple.

    2. TheTick

      I think it's 15 minutes after broadcast that you can watch something without a licence. If your systems "buffered" it for that long then it would basically be the same as recording it which is also covered by the silly rules.

      If you do watch BBC stuff you should pay the fee, that's fair enough. It's the making us pay the fee because we watch other stations that gets me (I refuse to pay so don't even have an aerial on the house).

  25. Dan 55 Silver badge

    "an inappropriate invasion of privacy"

    I like the way a login to use a service would be an inappropiate invasion of privacy but inspectors which try to caution you and pretend they can enter the property without the right to do so and scary hocus pocus that, if it ever worked, stopped working with the advent of LED TVs, is not.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "an inappropriate invasion of privacy"

      As others have posted. That is the clever ruse of the game.

      BBC has no legal requirement to snoop. It is prohibited from doing so.

      Licence authority is a separate entity, and has no legal method to snoop, other than the record of subscriptions.

      Nice little Shop window you have there, would be a pity if some other person were to smash it.

  26. tkioz

    Sweet mercy, the UK still has those archaic licences? I thought you got rid of them years ago and done the sensible thing of funding the BBC out of general government revenue like we do Down Under with the ABC.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      " I thought you got rid of them years ago and done the sensible thing of funding the BBC out of general government revenue like we do Down Under with the ABC."

      You get away with that because Rupe buggered off to Britain to wreck cricket and the Press before becoming an American to try to wreck the Middle East (via Fox).

      1. bazza Silver badge

        It's yet another reason to be envious of Australia. Nice place, nice weather, etc. etc.

        Though you can keep your animals and plants. Literally everything else is seemingly out to get you, especially the gympie-gympie (Wikipedia) bush and everything with a leg count != 2. And everything that lives in the sea round there. Maybe some of the sheep are safe-ish, perhaps.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          "everything else is seemingly out to get you"

          Not all the flora. I have a certain regard for their local Vitis vinifera.

          1. bazza Silver badge

            Not all the flora. I have a certain regard for their local Vitis vinifera.

            Oh most certainly, but surely strictly speaking it's an import? And I'm certain it's given me headaches and flu like symptoms the day afterwards!

        2. Kiwi

          Maybe some of the sheep are safe-ish, perhaps.

          They may look safe, but I sure bet they don't feel safe!

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "funding the BBC out of general government revenue like we do Down Under with the ABC"

      I saw what Oz TV was like several years ago. The closest I could compare it to would be having all channels produced by UTV.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "funding the BBC out of general government revenue like we do Down Under with the ABC."

      The idea is that although effectively being a government funded body (the biggest threat is the control over the cost of the licence fee), the BBC is pretty much independent of government and hence political control. Despite (or maybe because of) many claims of pro or anti government bias by all side, the Beeb do seem to be more or less treading the centre line of bias.

      The latest charter renewal and board reorganisation appears to have been an attempt to bring the Beeb more into the government fold, but that seems to have been headed off at the pass at the eleventh hour. This also points to the Beeb retaining a certain degree of independence and lack of political bias, at least in terms of party politics because both political sides are always looking for ways to erode the Beebs independence.

      Of course there is a Beeb bias, but on the whole that's governing body and individual editorial bias which comes in all walks of life, not a "government/political party of the day" bias.

  27. XVar

    This seems like a pretty ridiculous amount of effort to go to, surely just linking TV licenses to an iPlayer login would solve all of this nonsense? You pay, you get a login. You share the login and it's logged into more than x IPs simultaneously the account gets blocked.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      You could have a unique identifier - maybe a number printed on the to license.

      As a passcode you could probably just use your postcode - it's not as if it's a high value target. On second thoughts, maybe make those the other way around?

    2. Richard Scratcher
      Thumb Up

      Grab a granny

      "This seems like a pretty ridiculous amount of effort to go to, surely just linking TV licenses to an iPlayer login would solve all of this nonsense? You pay, you get a login. You share the login and it's logged into more than x IPs simultaneously the account gets blocked."

      I agree. This would be the best idea. Then I could visit some of my elderly relatives (people over 75 currently get a free TV licence) and cadge their licence details.

  28. Trollslayer

    Netflix, Prime, NowTV


    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Netflix, Prime, NowTV

      Video On Demand is NOT covered by the licence fee EXCEPT for iPlayer in the upcoming changes. The changes are because of the current loophole where non-payers of the licence fee can still watch BBC output for free on the catch-up/VOD iPlayer service.

  29. Nifty


    BBC catchup services are planned to be included in the license requirement soon. Been debated in Parliament.

    Main reason people resent license is the poll tax type flat rate price whether you are an unemployed 1 person household, or a student in a bedsit who's away 4 months a year. That part won't change because most MPs think it's an affordable thing - they're just too far from that kind of life.

    Meanwhile 7 person households with 9 TVs and 6 TV addicts pay same flat rate.

    Buy a U.S. spec router and run it on a channel not covered by the detector?

    1. Soruk

      Re: Catchup

      A US spec router won't help. At least on the 2.4GHz band, the US permits use of channels 1-11, we also allow 12 and 13 in the UK. Being a subset of the UK allowed bands, it won't hide you at all.

      And, for those suggesting networking over mains, any radio ham will tell you those things radiate like there's no tomorrow, so they'll also broadcast what you're doing.

      Just wire your house with Ethernet.

  30. Tim 37

    Or just stream live channels from elsewhere

    Its just scaremongering to encourage people to pay up. There is no way for them to prove what you were watching in a way that would stand up in court.

    You could always live stream the BBC channels from where the BBC cant even control the data streams.

    1. Kiwi
      Thumb Up

      Re: Or just stream live channels from elsewhere

      Muchas thankas for the iink. I have an elderly friend who is going to love their "Western Channel"!

  31. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Packet inspection of somebody else's wifi?

    Sounds like the Telegraph spreading FUD again. It's not as if it has a long standing agenda.

    Listening to someone else's wifi is not going to get you very far. What is probably a lot easier is to check for wifi at the address of a known non-payer and see if you can correlate the ip address (via request to ISP) with one currently streaming IPlayer.

  32. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "Told you so. RIPA, an antiterror law. RIPA should just drop the terror bit and be called the anti law. If you're anti-something, you're probably breaking RIPA."


    1. choleric

      Pretty much my favorite line in the article. "Regulation" in RIPA just means it is a "regulation issue" capability.

  33. Slx

    Give it a while - U.K. outside the protection of the ECHR and under the Stasi, eh I mean the Maytonian Tories.

    It won't be long now before you've a special little box on your broadband connection and CCTV on every lamppost.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "U.K. outside the protection of the ECHR"

      How many times do they have to be told? ECHR is not part of the EU.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Jess

        Re: ECHR is not part of the EU.

        Not part of it, but it is a requirement for membership, (and of the EEA too.)

        So if May is prepared to decimate our economy (and probably break up the UK) to get Britain* out of them both (which she apparently didn't want) why would she then not take us out of the ECHR (which reportedly she does want)?

        * The word Britain not being used as an abbreviation of Great Britain, but to mean England and Wales.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      the UK is not leaving the ECHR or the EU

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "the UK is not leaving the ECHR or the EU"

        The latter remains to be seen. The former, even May has admitted can't happen - much as she'd like to.

  34. Steve Crook

    License per concurrent device connected.

    With discounts for buying multiple licenses. They've already conceded that the license isn't for the TV or for the house, just to be able to stream the content, the next logical step is to tie it to the software.

    Then, if I want to buy a license for 6 concurrent users I can.

    But that's beginning to look a little like a subscription. Which is a bad thing (apparently). While a poll tax is a good thing (apparently).

    My partner doesn't have a TV license. I do. **Hypothetically**, I regularly stream live broadcasts at her place (on my laptop) which we both watch. Is that a contravention of the law? Would I be complying with the law if I stopped her from watching the programs I stream while using her BB connection?

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: License per concurrent device connected.

      "Is that a contravention of the law?"

      it depends if it's running under mains power whilst you're watching - assuming, of course, that you don't have a long mains lead plugged in back at your place. Or something like that.

      1. katrinab Silver badge

        Re: License per concurrent device connected.

        No, downloading at your parter's licenced premises is fine, you can do that on battery or mains. However you will be in breach of copyright law if you take the recording out of their premises and watch it at your place.

      2. choleric

        Re: License per concurrent device connected.

        Yeah, that "device plugged into the mains" thing is weird isn't it?

        What about when I'm low on battery and want to charge while I watch?

        And what about the WiFi router? It's a device I'm using to stream iPlayer and presumably it's plugged into the mains too, so does that count?

        There is so much stuff with this that sounds half baked.

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: License per concurrent device connected.

        "it depends if it's running under mains power whilst you're watching"

        Does a laptop/phone/tablet actually use the power from the mains (via the external adaptor) to run the device, or is it still running off the internal battery which just happens to be being continually topped up?

  35. Slx

    Why not just encrypt the BBC & C4?

    You're spending millions on these complex, legally and morally questionable snooping and harassment practices.

    If you want to protect revenues, encrypt public service television. If you don't have a valid licence number and pin, make it impossible to stream anything.

    It's also perfectly possible to encrypt the broadcasts - charge a licence fee via Sky and cable subscriptions and encrypt BBC on freesat and freeview.

    Yeah, it'll annoy and anger people but the current approach is an absolute farce and a really creepy one at that.

    The only conclusion I can reach is that BBC content isn't compelling enough to ensure that most people wools actually subscribe.

    The other alternative is to make an assumption that public service broadcasting is worth funding as a public service and either allow the BBC to levy an actual tax on all residents via their income or council tax or directly state fund it through some kind of protected structure that removes risk of government intervention in programming.

    1. Mike Tubby

      Re: Why not just encrypt the BBC & C4?

      Because they're not allowed to according to their charter ... funny isn't it ... transmission must eb "open to all" but not "watched by all" (unless you pay) ... me thinks there's a bit of a conflict here ;-)

    2. King Jack

      Re: Why not just encrypt the BBC & C4?

      You are missing the point. If the BBC did that, revenues would go down as most people would just not bother with BBC offerings. Forcing everyone to give you money is more money in your pocket. BBC bosses know that and the extortion model will remain as long as people are willing to defend it and go along with it.

  36. Mike Tubby

    Fixed it

    Use a wired connection. Fullstop.

    1. RedCardinal

      Re: Fixed it

      That's what I do (although I have a tv licence anyway so...). Haven't got any of that overpriced laptop shite. Desktop instead = no need for wireless :)

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Shouldn't be too hard to configure a headless wifi device to consume the stream (encrypted or non-encrypted to cover all bases), and place these in a suitable location where there is demonstrably no need for a license.

  38. DaveB

    Message from the real world

    I think the Telegraph have leaked a new script for W1A, based on Project Fear.

    Detector Vans LOL

  39. EvadingGrid

    The original detector vans had aerials made out of W O O D . . .

    They are now claiming to reuse that technology to detect iPlayer . . . . .

  40. Gerry 3

    The Elephant In The Room

    No one seems to have realised why the BBC is so desperately refusing to adopt the blindingly obvious solution of putting the iPlayer behind a paywall. It would end all the nonsense about making their output available to all and sundry and then dragging penniless single mums through the courts (even sending some to jail), so what's not to like?

    Of course, the elephant in the room is that the BBC's fat cats and luvvies are terrified of losing their ability to force people to buy all their dross when they don't want it. It makes complete sense to put the iPlayer behind a paywall (that's just what the legislators were naïvely expecting) but the logic would then be unstoppable - do the same for the licence fee !

    So the BBC's always strangled at birth anything that looks like subscription. Originally their satellite transmissions covered much of continental Europe, but they were encrypted and were only viewable with a Sky subscription. Then the licence payers who couldn't receive terrestrial signals complained that they didn't want to pay Murdoch a surcharge just to be able to watch BBC programmes, so the BBC sold them a Solus decrypting card for a nominal fee. However, alarm bells then rang because this was setting a precedent for general subscription. This was far too dangerous for the fat cats: the BBC switched to a satellite with only a UK footprint so that they could end encryption and keep the compulsory licence fee going.

    It's high time that the BBC was told to switch to subscription. It wouldn't end Public Service Broadcasting: on the contrary, a properly thought through system would ring fence a generous amount for high quality PSB (and BBC Radio) and allow BBC to flourish by setting it free from government interference.

    1. Mike Tubby

      Re: The Elephant In The Room

      Actually its high time the BBC was "cut down to size" and run as a proper state-funded public service broadcaster, free to air, with no license and funded by general taxation but hypothecated, ring-fenced and triple-locked against political interference ... but for some reason we don't seem to be able do bring ourselves to do it?

      The alternatives appear to be to commercialise auntie-Beeb via either (a) subscription or (b) advertising.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: The Elephant In The Room

        "Actually its high time the BBC was ... run as a proper state-funded public service broadcaster"

        State-funded and, therefore, state-controlled. No. Just no. The more the whole thing is arms-length from the state the better.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: The Elephant In The Room

      "However, alarm bells then rang because this was setting a precedent for general subscription. This was far too dangerous for the fat cats: the BBC switched to a satellite with only a UK footprint so that they could end encryption and keep the compulsory licence fee going."

      I think you'll find that Astra, who own and operate those particular satellites chose to do more directional beaming of transmissions at the behest of their customers, especially Sky, so as to help enforce the regional charging systems and protect against accusations of distributing programming outside of the areas the broadcasters had bought the rights for.

      1. Gerry 3

        Re: The Elephant In The Room

        @ John Brown (no body)

        No, Sky encrypt their UK transmissions so they don't have problems with rights in other countries (and to get revenue, of course). The BBC specifically chooses to transmit in the clear, desperately trying to pretend that passwords, paywalls, encryption, viewing cards etc don't exist. They know that any use of Conditional Access implies subscription, which would bring the archaic Licence Fee deck of cards crashing down.

        We'd never allow Murdoch to demand payment if you read the Guardian or Telegraph rather than the Times or the Sun, so why is the BBC allowed to use anti-terrorist legislation to snoop on those who merely prefer to watch other providers' content rather than the BBC's?

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Could the iOS App Telemetry use Bluetooth?

    Could the iOS/Android App make use of Bluetooth to transmit a Unique identifier, i.e just broadcast this for potential Bluetooth devices to connect to?

    Could leak a fair amount of telemetry information in theory via a Bluetooth connected device regarding the type of content been viewed Live/Streamed/UUID/IP Adresss.

    It sounds to me that this could be the route. In fairness, given the current content on BBC iPlayer its in no way worth the effort. I'll be asking my ISP to give me a switch to block it permanently, so there is no question I'm watching it.

  42. nil0

    I really don't understand

    ...why on earth we're still collecting this as a separate fee. Maybe when only a small proportion of people had TVs it made sense, but with near-universal take up, it's daft.

    Just the cost of collecting the TV licence fee is around £100million.

    Roll the damn thing into general taxation and be done with it.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: I really don't understand

      And make Teresa May Director-General?

      It's arms-length for a reason.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I really don't understand

      As the French do, its bundled with your tax habitation, tick to say no tv.

  43. Ol'Peculier

    So what about if I'm watching iPlayer on my phone over 4G? Or, more to the point, my TV has a CAT5 cable directly to the router?

    I can't see why they can't link it into your TV licence number, Sky manage it over multiple devices, although a house with more than 2 or 3 kids and a myriad of different TVs, phones and tablets might be difficult. Hey, they could all sit round the telly-box and watch Robot Wars or Doctor Who as a family, like in the old days...

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nectar Points

    Could the BBC get access to your banking details to see if you've bought a laptop, tablet etc, on your credit card before they come knocking......RIPA??

  45. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    They could repurpose the cat detector vans from the Ministry of Housinge, that would work just as well and shave a bit off the costs.

  46. cantankerous swineherd

    luckily for me my ISP emails me with changes to my porn filter. so proceed as follows:

    1. block and

    2. receive summons for watching iPlayer

    3. issue subject access request to ISP for all emails.

    4. get not guilty from the beaks.

    4a. issue writ for harassment and malicious prosecution.

    4b. profit.

    4a and b are just my little joke.

  47. NonSSL-Login

    Maybe more obvious

    It wouldn't surprise me if part of the deal the BBC made with smart tv makers was that to include the iPlayer app, they had to send additional details to the BBC either directly from the app or from their own telemetrics data received from the tv.

    So the unique tv name or licence and/or MAC address.

    If they have the MAC address and the tv is wireless, the detector vans only need do a simple monitor of the wifi in the area to see which devices connect to each other to determine TV and router combination. From there, it's easy to narrow down what house a router is in by it's signal.

    You can do exactly the same with the usual wifi hacking tools and an app on your android phone that gets beeps more intense as you get close to the router/the signal gets stronger.

    1. Ivan Headache

      Re: Maybe more obvious (or not)

      If your TV has iPlayer then you will most like be using it for catch-up - NOT live TV.

      (and you already have a licence for that)

      The story is about watching live TV on something other than a TV set.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It gets worse

    I caught my landlord red handed (photo evidence upon request) HIDING EFFIN CAMERAS inside ceiling smoke alarms in the shared hall.

    I even went to the trouble of tracing the wiring from the electrical cupboard to a small transformer with "camera supply" written on its frame, leading somewhere in the ceiling.

    The really sneaky thing is that the camera is hidden inside the LED where it can't be seen and also for a while knocked out WiFi and 3/4G because it was evidently misaligned.

    If behavior like this is typical for private companies then $DEITY help us what Sneaky Uncle Beeb gets up to.

    Probably using micro-dataloggers hidden in solar garden lamps or other "innocuous" objects that use 100+GB rainbow tables on memory card (£11!) to hack the most common WPA/WPA2 network passwords then log the relevant data traffic with exact times and dates and send to the authorities via 2G/EDGE for low visibility.

    Come to think of it, that rock lamp seems to trip my WiFi detector and is suspiciously heavy for its size.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: It gets worse

      "100+GB rainbow tables on memory card (£11!)"

      Link please. I'd like a few 100+GB memory cards at that price for my own use.

      I did find some never heard of before brand 128GB SD card direct from China at that price, but at 1/4 to 1/3rd the price of pretty much everything else on the market, I find it hard to want to trust data to that particular "good deal".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It gets worse

        The card I mentioned is low speed Class 2 junk, actually just underclocked faulty Class 10's usually but they do hold the full 100GB and are more reliable than others.

        This is for SD not microSD which I've seen locally as low as £27 before.

        Interestingly the cheaper cards sometimes still support FAT32 which simplifies the software and hardware to £0.99 microcontroller level and even a cheap MP3 player chip such as the AB1328 will do the trick here when the object is merely to play back the rainbow table as an audio track.

        The really interesting part is that there is now a 128GB 8 pin WSOP chip designed for max 100 write/read cycles, RRP £4.99 in 1000 unit quantities which has this function built in. It was originally intended for micro MP3 players and imaging laptops to save on HDD/SSD space. for £22 but they are cheaper in quantity.

        1. Alien8n

          Re: It gets worse

          The service stations were selling SD cards cheap a while back as suitable for photography. I needed a second card so picked up a couple. Only used once and replaced with a 64Gb ultra high speed the following week. They're utterly useless for anything except backup for static data. You cannot use them for recording video, as the save speed is too low and for professional photography they're certainly no use (I do music photography so most of my photography is in 5 to 10 shot bursts)

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "illicitly watching its programmes online"

    So, VPN access from the Colonies is OK then.

    Convicts and all.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    how exactly is this going to work?

    excuse me sir, but our equipment seems to indicate you're running an active wif-connection on your mobile, would you mind stepping aside for a moment? Yes, we do have authority to search you as well as restrain the suspects, so please... this way to the van...

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    BBC vans will fan out across the country

    FUD. Always works, on some. I'm more likely to believe there's a special room at the beeb stuffed with a special team appointed with spreading FUD on the vans...

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    detector vans, if they even exist

    they do, like the flying sources, I see them every day!

    jeez, homo sapiens could be armed in the finest technology tools to date, but their reactions (black mary) never change. I bet they'll play the same tricks when we all travel to starts in our private star-ships too! :D

  53. Baldy50


    The cost is tiny (less than £3 per week) for the whole family, and that includes radio, the Internet and the iPlayer etc.

    But you choose whether to buy a Sky or Virgin package or whatever but have no choice with the TV license and has been debated many times if it should be like all the other media companies out there, made to stand on it's own two feet without forcing through law that people pay even if they never use any of it's services.

    Apart from the excellent sport and news coverage I wouldn't watch most of the shite it has to offer for the price.

    So about 27,000000 households in the UK and if all of them are paying the license fee that would be £145 x 27000000 = £3915000000 they aren't obviously and the BBc's budget is about 2.4 Billion ish.

    I agree some important documentaries and programs may never have been produced without the BBC but the cost is huge to the consumer and with very little choice and if your paying you should have choice.

    They show plenty of old shit but not 'In sickness and health'! Do they? Well later on dads army's repeated again, it's funny but I'd like a bit of Alf for a change. Watch out the PC brigade's about!

    In keeping with the IT mood remember this cock up?

    Just how much better could they do with regards to investment in new programs if they weren't paying such ridiculous salaries to the 'stars' Graham Norton FFS?

    Research it for yourselves the pay some of the BBC exec's get paid!

    Throw them to the wolves and see if they survive is what I'm thinking.

    1. Tim Almond

      Re: So!

      I'm not sure if it's getting worse, or just that the Americans are getting a lot better.

      I still like the news and I find I like the odd show like that Portillo railway thing, but in general, I'm more likely to be watch C4, Netflix or Amazon. It's getting close to the stage where I'll be watching it as much as ITV.

  54. petef

    So my tin foil hat is insufficient protection. I need to put another over my Wi-Fi.

  55. Tom 7


    says it all really.

  56. PaulR79

    Worthless and idiotic

    First I would like to know how they are going to know which WiFi network in an area belongs to which property. A quick glance at my WiFi connection options shows at least 3 others in the area and if I was to go outside (not likely!) more would appear. Unless the name says "56 Obvious Street" you have no idea. Am I supposed to believe they would send a 'van' to check packets on multiple WiFi access points hoping to pick up something resembling iPlayer traffic? More scaremongering intended to make sure the less knowledgeable pay up.

    On a note of the license people and their stupidity I once ordered a VHS player for my brother. I purchased it from Amazon and when it got here he happily took it home and that was that or so I thought. About a week later I got a letter through the door saying that I didn't have a license for the recording equipment I had bought and demanding I pay up. Not only had they been wrong in assuming it was for me but they also didn't bother to check the premises on their database as my parents held a license at the time.

    BBC can fuck off for all I care. Biased news, programming that I have zero interest in and a website that insists on pushing the latest "new bit we added" in my face. The documentary bunch may be decent but I can live without that easily. I can't remember the last time I watched *any* TV let alone the BBC.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Worthless and idiotic

      "First I would like to know how they are going to know which WiFi network in an area belongs to which property."

      Looking at the large number of SSIDs visible in my street - most have a name indicating BT, Virgin Media, or Sky. Each has a distinguishing suffix that presumably the ISP set for the contract.

      There are very few that have had a user chosen SSID. One does intrigue me - "Password is ....." - but who would try to connect with the indicated word?

  57. Steven Jones

    Scare story

    Just a scare story. Quite apart from the WPA-2 encryption issue and some vague stuff about pattern matching with iPlayer, there is another issue in that mobile devices (when running off of batteries, but not the mains) are covered by any TV licence at the owner's place of residence. So somebody using a tablet to watch iPlayer at a friend's house is covered by their own TV licence. That's also true for second homes too (as is confirmed by the official website) if you have a licence at your primary home. Just don't watch whilst your tablet/laptop is plugged into a mains socket or any device plugged into an aerial socket.

  58. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Network name

    Use your neighbours surname....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Network name

      "Use your neighbours surname...."

      Too obvious.

      "Privacy International" might make them think of moving on to the next street.

  59. Andy Taylor

    All you need is

    A wired connection and get_iplayer_downloader.

    It has long annoyed me that it is perfectly legal to time shift viewing using an off-air recording device, but iPlayer was limited to a finite time (first 7 then 30 days), not to mention all the programmes that are excluded from iPlayer for "rights reasons".

    I use get_iplayer_downloader for >95% of my BBC viewing and I get to keep the recordings for future enjoyment.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: All you need is

      "not to mention all the programmes that are excluded from iPlayer for "rights reasons"

      Maybe that's the reason for trying to enforce all iPlayer usage to only licence payers. Maybe more bought-in programmes will appear on iPlayer when it's no longer free access for non-licence payers?

      Maybe, just maybe, this is all about making more available to licence payers and not just about a poorly thought out attempt to raise more money.

      Are we all getting too cynical? Or am I just being way too optimistic?

      Sorry? What was that? Oh, yes, it is time for my tablets, thanks.

  60. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The license fee enforcers are so efficient that it has so far taken then 22 years and they still haven't managed to get past my front door or even find out my name. All they do is write threatening letters and about every 4 years someone comes around mostly when I am not home and leaves a bit of paper saying if you had been home you would have been in trouble.

    I don't imagine the new wifi spying will be any more efficient.

  61. M7S

    "Written by Auditor General Sir Amyas Morse"

    Presumably in something more elegant than the usual Whitehall "code"

  62. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All this so they can avoid having people log in to iplayer using their tv license number, because they don't want to go subscription only.

    Just privatise the bloody thing and be done with it.

  63. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Funnily enough, I would not mind paying to BBC...

    ... because I quite like their programming, watch it a fair bit "illegally", and would like them to continue existing. The problem is, because I don't live in the UK, BBC is not interested in taking my money (and no, I do not want the castrated version which does make it to the cable here - I want the domestic UK iplayer feed).

    It's a funny old world and no mistake.

  64. The Axe

    Scrap the BBC

    High time the BBC was scrapped. All it shows is crap now a days.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Scrap the BBC

      "All it shows is crap now a days."

      The science and history programmes have been dumbed down - possibly to generate overseas sales to commercial stations - but I suspect they have more educational content than any other UK channel.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Scrap the BBC

      "All it shows is crap now a days."

      How do you explain the large audience it gets? And before you trot out the obvious answer, bear in mind that that audience might consider your preferred viewing to be crap.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Scrap the BBC

        Different AC here, but likely to get lambasted anyways...

        Re: Doctor Syntax's comment. Always good to beware of your own glass house before throwing stones etc, but that doesn't mean that what a lot of people want to watch isn't crap, or that what The Axe wants to watch isn't actually top notch.

  65. Zimmer

    Thin end of wedge

    Got a PC? Smartphone? Tablet ? Pi(e) ? (MMMM..pies...) Then you must get a telly licence...... cos we are now broadcasting/streaming on the Internet.....

    If the Beeb want to bleat about how many non-licence holders are streaming their content then the answer is- Do Not put the content here in the first place- it's like leaving your possessions in the street and not expecting them to get stolen... but I'm still fairly convinced that this is a subtle way to start getting PC owners, who have no TV and do not pay the licence fee, to cough up , whether they watch any iPlayer content or not...

    1. Alan W. Rateliff, II
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Thin end of wedge

      I refer the Honorable Gentleman to the "Private Copying Levy."

  66. Haku
    Black Helicopters

    I'm going to change my SSID to

    The Laurels

    (that's the name of next door's house)

    1. Mr_Pitiful

      Re: I'm going to change my SSID to


      Met Police Monitoring as an SSID might scare them off

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: I'm going to change my SSID to

        HMRC Office. That'll scare the bejeezus out of Crapita employees!

    2. macjules

      Re: I'm going to change my SSID to

      If you want to change it to something that would scare the living sh*t out of Capita employees then call your wifi "Capita HR ONLY"

  67. Mr_Pitiful

    I have a question

    I live 400 Meters from a public road and our house is made mostly of granite

    Are these van allowed to trespass down our private lane and sniff the 5 WiFi networks here?

    Our networks are fully encrypted and the kids use NOW TV boxes to watch stuff

    The main equipment is directly wired to a switch, apart from phones and laptops

    We have a TV Licence, so this isn't really an issue unless I chop the aerial off the roof

    95% of the TV we watch is not directly a Freeview / Freesat or BBC related channel

    (I know some freeview channels transmit bbc programs) i.e Dave

    So should I just let rip with the shotgun when a van drives up here?

  68. Joe Gurman


    "We've got two more words for you: Ethernet. Cables. What are you going to do about TVs physically wired into their routers?"

    One man's 1984ish enforcement scheme is another man or woman's business opportunity. I foresee an uptick in Cat-5e cable, crimping tool, and RJ-45 connector sales.

  69. cd

    In Soviet Britain, media watches you.

  70. EL Vark

    really? no one?


  71. Howard Hanek

    Are We Sure?

    ....they aren't from the Mayor of London's office searching for blasphemers?

  72. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Have they not heard of authentication?

    If you have a licence they send you a registration code and you can then access the site.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They don't want to do that because they see that as the first step on the road toward people only paying if they actually want the service, which wouldn't do.

  73. fLaMePrOoF

    Bollocks, that would be an illegal intercept.

  74. A Ghost

    The year the BBC died

    No problemo with all of this, for me personally any way. I'm prepared to go to prison before I pay for a TV license.

    But besides that, no need for prison yet, and I'll tell you why.

    First, I will be blocking the BBC on the Router at Domain level, even the news websites because they sneakily put those LIVE things up sometimes without due warning and I might click on it pissed one night coming back from the pub. That means that I will not physically be able to watch even if I wanted to. I will also make amendments to my hosts file.

    Second, I will disable wireless on my Router. I don't use it anyway, but I do need to find a way to switch it off so it is most definitely NOT TRANSMITTING. I need to research this, and it may involve buying another Router as I have not been able to find a quick and easy way to disable it yet. But I will.

    Third, I don't answer the door to strangers. Ever. The harder you knock, the harder I laugh. Knock it all day fellas if you like. No open sesame for you goons. I could record and video the conversation and I am in the process of setting that up, as I'm sick of their fucking harassment, but for now, your name's not down your not coming in.

    When I do get this set up with video and audio recording, I will remove their implied right of access and inform them that should they harass me again, I will be charging a fee of 200 GBP an hour in my future dealings with them, which will include a letter to my local police station informing them of the said harassment. I will also be sending letters to my MP, again at the rate of 200 GBP per hour, informing them of same. There will be letters to newspapers and there will be posts on websites and blogs like this, also informing people of the harassment I am suffering. I think we are looking at about a tidy Grand there. And of course, it will have been put in writing to them, recorded delivery so they know what they are dealing with. The law is on my side.

    So, with no wifi to sniff and the BBC blocked at the Router, there is fuck all they can do but threaten me and invade my privacy.

    It doesn't matter that they have been given dispensation. The fact is we are still in the EU and as I understand it, it is illegal under EU law currently to do this. If it is illegal to probe your computer for ad-blockers, it most certainly is illegal to sniff your traffic. That is if it is workable, which of course, it is not. Possibly from a technical viewpoint, but not from a pragmatic viewpoint.

    This is the 21st Century equivalent of those ads that said: "WE KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE!!." Remember them?

    It's a proven well known fact that the detector vans were total bullshit. Yes, the technology did exist in theory but it was limited in usefulness, expensive and only really rolled out for true military and anti-terrorist purposes. So I have been told. I may be wrong, so pinch of salt. The detector vans never had one person prosecuted, they were scaremongering, that is all I know for a fact according to FOI requests.

    But fuck all that. The fact that they have the brass balls to just come out and say 'we are going to spy on you' is enough to get my back up. Fuck you BBC and Capita cunts. You won't be missed.

    It will be with heavy heart when I set all this up on a clean and new system image (with everything blocked) for proof of dates should I need them. I will watch the Sky at Night for one last time, and even though dear dear Patrick Moore is no longer with us, it's a top quality program. I will listen to that evocative music one last time. It will remind me of when I was a child, staying up later than I should have, in black and white, to learn about science and cosmology. God bless them all.

    And one last 'fuck you cunts' to the BBC. Just who the fuck do you think you are to treat innocent people like shit in this way? I will go to prison before they get a penny out of me. That's a promise. If they lob it in with internet tax, I will disconnect from the net. Yes, I'll be one of the few, but we do exist.

    Fucking chumps and goons... What a time to be alive. To see the encroaching totalitarian state take shape before our very eyes. This is not about the BBC, it's about population control.

    Oh, did I mention Fuck YOU BBC and Crapita? No, ok, one last time, just to make sure you got it:



    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: The year the BBC died

      I doubt the Beeb will miss you either.

      1. TheTick

        Re: The year the BBC died

        If they weren't missing people like him (and me) then nothing would be changing.

        Clearly they do.

    2. macjules
      Black Helicopters

      Re: The year the BBC died

      Plus vote for top irrational rant of the day.

    3. Mutton Jeff

      Re: The year the BBC died

      Don't forget the moat and drawbridge - hopefully the 'tector vans wont be equipped with a trebuchet

  75. William 3 Bronze badge

    Impressive work by the BBC.

    I'm impressed that when it comes to financial matters effecting their income they can immediately recognise what houeholds are using their services illegally and deliver swift and fitting punishment, yet when it came to recognising perverts molesting kiddies, despite numerous complaints, and even when they abused them on stage, with cameras pointing at them recording it, they were fucking clueless about it for decades.


  76. DocJD

    Why a license?

    Brits need a license to watch television? Do they need to pass some kind of test to prove they can watch properly?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why a license?

      "TV tax" probably sounds too taxationy.

  77. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't they need a warrant for any kind of DPI trickery?

    Could one call an illegal search?

  78. anon01789

    But it is all right that people still have black & white licenses, for TVs that are most likely not!

    1. Soruk

      The problem with the B&W licence is that anyone getting such a licence now cannot comply with its terms. You need a colour licence if you have equipment capable of receiving a colour signal, e.g. a VCR - or a Freeview box. And there are no B&W-only TVs with built-in Freeview, I'm astonished that the B&W licence hasn't been abolished.

  79. The Onymous Coward

    Really, it would be easier to do away with this nonsense and put iPlayer behind a paywall. But, the BBC don't want to do they, because they'd find out how many* people are willing to pay for their programmes when there's no coercion.

    * not many

  80. Ben 54

    So, now you need to pay even though you only use it to watch pornhub?

    So effectively you now need to pay a TV license for watching youtube, browse reddit and pornhub. Lol, that is taking it too far.

    1. A Ghost

      Re: So, now you need to pay even though you only use it to watch pornhub?

      Probably willfully obtuse, but I'll bite.

      You do NOT need a TV license if you have the BBC blocked at your Router. That means it is physically impossible to pick up the transmissions, because they do NOT occur.

      I'm breaking NO laws at all.

      The BBC have been given mandate to illegally hack into my computer, and there is not much I can do about that. They might report me for all the child porn I download, or all the bomb-making materials I disseminate to Jihadis, but, they can not so far do me for watching the BBC when it is physically impossible for me to receive it.

      They can not however do me for the TV I have in my living room. I am just about to pick one up in fact for watching VHS videos - my mum is chucking it out and I have a video of me and mates on VHS that I want to watch. They can do fuck all. That is the law.

      I'm not pissed off about anything to do with being stopped from being a freeloader, because I am not. I don't use the BBC services at all, apart from news and catch up, and like I said, that stops the end of month. Even the wonderful sky at night. I won't torrent it or circumvent it because I am taking the moral high ground. Oh, and the legal high ground too.

      Those that wish to break the law, I have no opinion on. I know what I am doing is totally legal and also moral. I couldn't give a shit about the 'you won't believe what happened next' bullshit the bbc news has started to peddle. That and deceptive headlines that outright lie. I have proof. I have facts. Screenshots.

      They can eat shit and die as far as I am concerned.

      You may not believe me, but I am being monitored under RIPA. I get a hard hard knock on my door in the next few days. In fact, the last time I posted anything as subversive as this, the fucking goons came around the very next fucking morning.

      And you paid for it! Mugs.

      I will go to prison before I pay a penny to the BBC.

      I am not breaking the law. I have proof I am not breaking the law.

      So fuck off cunts.

      Fucking totalitarian child rapers and child raping protectors. You're fucking done. And when I get my cameras and microphones set up, I'm really going to rip you a new one if you try to knock my door off the hinges again. Cunts. They nearly took it off last time. I thought they were beating it with a battering ram.

      This is why I'm fucked off, not coz I'm too tight to pay a piddling few pennies for a service that on the whole is probably worth it. I honestly would have paid the license fee just for Sky at Night alone. But no, you had to be cunts about it.

      Oh and now that they will be sending around the TV detector vans, I suppose I had better stop downloading all that child torture porn and the bomb-making stuff too. JOKE.

      Yes, it's a fucking joke, coz they already monitor me in real time via RIPA.

      What self-respecting kiddy fiddler or terrorist would admit to that on a public forum eh?

      Won't stop them carting me away and torturing me for a bit eh? Because that is what all this is about innit? They couldn't give a fuck about the TV license. They want you all to be good girls and boys and do the fuck as you are told.

      I expect them to make an example of me sooner rather than later, now that I am so obviously on their radar. And those of you that pay for a BBC license are funding my fucking persecution, so drink deep from that one as well.

      What a time to be alive. Worried I'm going to be dragged out of bed and be tortured by goons for having the temerity not to pay for a service that I don't use. Let's see how long it takes the cunts to knock on my door this time shall we? I'll be reporting back, if I'm still around...

      Oh, and rest in peace, Patrick Moore, like Jimmy Savile had engraved on his tomb stone: IT WAS FUN WHILE IT LASTED.

      1. Ben 54

        Re: So, now you need to pay even though you only use it to watch pornhub?

        It was a joke, but wow on your response.

        Quite honestly, the statement is that anyone using the iPlayer to watch BBC should be paying a TV license, so it should exclude wifi or lan traffic. I am sure there are better ways to monitor the iPlayer users (like a subscription) than threatening letters. However, it has been proven that more people will respond to a legal letter, no matter how unlawful, and cough up. There are the few who will call and question it, but being a bully served the lazy corps well up to now. I for one haven't lived in the UK for well over 5 years, and my property was vacant for two years while contractors renovated it. During that time there were zero electronics in the house. To my amusement I got threatening letters to pay up or face a fine. I didn't pay it of course, but I know many who did.

  81. Pomgolian

    Oh for Fuck's sake

    99.99% of people watch T.V., listen to radio or stream live video. Therefore, the blindingly obvious thing to do is to scrap the licence fee, the "detector vans" and all the useless twuntards in the licensing and enforcement departments and simply take it out of general taxation (yes, it'll go up a bit, but it's a lot harder to dodge). Some formula linked to census statistics ring fenced so the gubbermint can't dick with it when they need a new nuclear weapon should give the beeb all the cash they need without needing to bung the courts up.

    Thank fuck I live in NZ now and don't have to put up with this shit.

  82. Derek Choate 1

    Typical British Over-engineering?

    Maybe I'm being a bit simplistic ... but couldn't you just require people to register for iPlayer and during that process check for their license status? Yes, I know that properties are licensed, not people, but I'm sure that a compromise could be found - it is after all, far more viable than sniffing wifi packets.

  83. payne747

    Here's an idea

    How about some sort of online portal, where people log in, enter maybe a username and password, associate the account with a TV license number and address. Surely that would be much cheaper then buying vans and hiring staff to sit in them all day doing nothing (because even if they do capture packets, which court would accept them?)

  84. Markinapub

    Identifying the correct SSID

    How are these so called detector vans ever going to know they are spying on the correct house without knowing the SSID of the WiFi network.

    The majority of license dodgers will likely be in built up areas - blocks of flats, busy housing streets etc. With a condensed area of WiFi networks how will they ever know they're tracking packets on the right network?!

  85. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Counter-measures; OPENVPN+OBFSPROXY

    Can Capita's Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) 'technology' tell the difference between say a livestream from BBC News24, as opposed to, for instance livestream from Youtube, or,

    What if you have four or five windows open, and stream from several different websites SIMULTANEOUSLY? Would this muddy the waters?

    Even if their 'technology' can differentiate between various livestreams, effective counter-measures exist by using a VPN service IN CONJUCTION WITH OBFSPROXY (OPENVPN+OBFSPROXY).

    Several VPN service providers allow this, and such techniques are successful used by millions who reside in even nastier regimes than our own in the UK, such as Iran, China, Pakistan.

    Mullvad, NordVPN,, VPN.AC, are just a small example of the many providers who now provide OPENVPN+OBFSPROXY technology.

    Continue to bin the letters, and use a VPN service which has a track record of defeating the Great Firewall of China (one which uses TOR's obfs technology), and continue to use the BBC iplayer (Live or not).

    ((It may also possible to use STUNNEL in conjunction with a VPN service to defeat DPI)).

    At the end of the day they will continue to rely on the same old nasty letters sent by Capita working on behalf of the [B]ullying [B]roadcasting [C]orporation, with the phrases such as 'Interview Under Caution' and 'Police And Criminal Evidence' Act, thrown in, to fool the stupid into mistakenly believing that the TV enforcement staff have 'Police Powers'.

    Whilst those with a half a brain know it's safe to continue to bin the letters, and shut the door in the faces of any inspector who does pay a visit.

    1. DaveB

      Re: Counter-measures; OPENVPN+OBFSPROXY

      Its much easier than that just "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow"

  86. Malau

    So, the BBC had this magical power to detect what channel you are watching - for 50 years?

    Technology SO secret that it is a state secret?! Technology that no other country has ever been able to replicate, ever? Not even China or North Korea?


    There's plenty of anecdotal comment online from ex BBC employees, saying that the whole detector van thing was always just a scare tactic.

    Anyone who believed otherwise is an idiot.

  87. MichaelG

    What a pile of c**p!

    There is absolutely no need for the BBC to reply any sort of 'detector' anything... they already have every detail the need, simply because you logged into iPlayer. Even if you have a 'shadow' email/iPlayer account, they know everything about your Browser and the IP address you are using. It not a huge job to associate an IP address with a property address ... companies like BT Openreach & cable service providers log whiich IP address is allocated to their customers homes every day.

    1. RedCardinal

      Re: What a pile of c**p!

      >>There is absolutely no need for the BBC to reply any sort of 'detector' anything... they already have every detail the need, simply because you logged into iPlayer.

      Err, the only problem with this is simply that you don't need to be logged in (or even registered) to use the iPlayer online... :)

    2. Robert Baker
      IT Angle

      Re: What a pile of c**p!

      "It not a huge job to associate an IP address with a property address ..."

      MaxMind, who provide the IP/geographic address database, has always stated that this doesn't work, that their database is not fine-grained enough to locate IP addresses down to below city-block level (that is. at best to within about 500 yards) — in most cases, to city level and in some cases county or country level.

      I have done location traces on my own IP addresses from time to time; when I was on Three, I was shown to be in Maidenhead Berks (about 30 miles out), although I don't know what the uncertainty radius was, and more recently I'm reckoned to be in the centre of London (probably Trafalgar Square or Piccadilly Circus), with an uncertainty radius of the entire Greater London County out to the M25.

      The erroneous belief that "it is easy to associate an IP address with a household" has led to the creation of websites claiming that all the cybercriminals in the USA operate from one small farm north of Wichita, Kansas — because that farm's co-ordinates were the ones returned for IP addresses whose only known location is "somewhere in the USA", and those searching for it ignored (or weren't delivered) the 1500-mile uncertainty radius. Even the FBI made that mistake. Hopefully, now that the secret supervillain den has moved to the middle of a lake west of Wichita, the innocent inhabitants of the farm will be left in peace.

  88. vjirasek

    Easy defence - fuzzying

    If they only listen to ones wifi, and assuming the wifi is strongly encrypted, the defence a home would have against the BBC is to add random traffic to the wifi - so called fuzzing. I guess this could become an opensource project - imagine Raspberry PI in Wifi simply generating traffic to a website on the Internet. Very hard to distinguish on the Wifi.

    That is why I am puzzled why the BBC bothers with Wifi when they could (using RIPA) tap to the ISPs directly. And by extension of that, why not just correlate IP addresses of iPlayer users with paying households.

    1. pcoventry

      Re: Easy defence - fuzzying

      Or just use an Ethernet cable - like me.

      And a VPN - Detect THAT Crapita!

  89. DaggleN8

    Much as I love all your elegant scientific and statistical theories a few facts are the most salient.

    There where as few as 160 requests for detection use in 2015.

    Detection evidence has never been used in a prosecution for licence evasion.

    The stated reason for this was that it was only used to obtain search warrants, however no case of a search warrant being used as a result of detection evidence is known.

    In other words it is not detection itself that is the virus its the threat of detection.

    What I find amazing is that the British state can go on pretending that there is some kind of technolicy out there that nobody knows ab

  90. illiad

    does everyone believe this crap???

    nope, WAAAYY too long didn't read the other carp...

    First, wifi & internet is NOT as 'easily readable' as the 'noise' produced by the average TV set... and the modern LCD tv even less...

    If wifi was that easy to 'see' there would have been 'problems' *years* ago!! LOLOLOL...

    various 'agencies' have enough problems finding the house that is using an IP address found, that they quite often find nothing, disturbing *innocent* people!!

  91. DaveB

    So 1942

    It does sound fun, straight from a world war II SOE story. Where the Germans used detector vans to triangulate the transmissions of enemy radio operators.

    I hope the vans have a nice big loop Ariel on the top that can be rotated and the inside equipment is housed in those nice big blue hammerite racks with big dials and large bakerlite knobs.

    I sort of regret having a TV license as I will miss the fun of sitting in the forest, watching Strictly on my tablet knowing at any time I could be incarcerated like the members of the French resistance before me.

    Luckily the BBC are not modern enough to use drones, now that would be 21st century.

  92. d3vy

    This is ridiculous, not the fact that there may be detector vans... But the kind of backwards thinking nthgast makes them needed in the first place... How much will the BBC spend on this i instead of implementing a logon for iPlayer... With some kind of licence verification built into the sign up...

  93. Richie 1

    Why does the BBC still exist as a license-funded organisation?

    There is plenty of evidence from around the world (including the UK) that privately owned TV companies are a viable thing, so why is a publically owned-broadcaster necessary anymore?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why does the BBC still exist as a license-funded organisation?

      Well, I for one, like my publicly funded free-to-air broadcaster.

      I do think paying by licence fee is a waste of energy though and given the remarkable complexity and cost of collection and enforcement central funding would give the same funding minus a big discount in effort.

      1. shaunhw

        Re: Why does the BBC still exist as a license-funded organisation?

        "Well, I for one, like my publicly funded free-to-air broadcaster."

        Then you pay for it.

        I like to drink beer and socialise rather than sit watching television, but I don't expect YOU or the state to pay for it.

  94. xyz Silver badge


    >>Detection vans can identify viewing on a non‐TV device in the same way that they can detect viewing on a television set.

    The only thing that springs to my mind is that the guy doing time for selling fake bomb sniffers has come up with a new product line.

    Would it not be easier for the BBC to ask for your tv licence ID when you log onto the site or open the app and just deny you access to the service if you don't provide it, which is similar to having iPlayer blocked when you use a foreign IP address? It would probably be more effective, less creepy and carbon friendly than having a sweaty bloke sitting in a van, stroking this thighs, muttering "milky milky" with the engine running, whilst sniffing the packets of teenagers and children.

  95. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    Oh no, I won't be able to watch Party Political Broadcasts


    Gutted, absolutely gutted

  96. JeffyPoooh

    "...demanding £145.50..."

    Hello, Canada calling.

    I would HAPPILY pay £145.50 per year (Cdn$21 per month), to have complete access to BBC TV.

    My satellite TV bill is just over Cdn$100 per month. $21 is good value.

    BBC's governing body should really implement some way for Johnny Foreigner to send them money and allow unfettered access to the BBC iPlayer or Dave or whatever we need to watch it all.

    This may involve ignoring other government demands for 'licensing' of such services. Just align BBC with YouTube's licensing, in other words, puh.

  97. Velv

    The "licence" model made sense when a significant proportion of people didn't own a TV.

    Now there are so many services provided by the BBC it can be argued everyone in the UK uses the BBC. Yes, there is a tiny proportion who don't, but there are other national services we all pay for and don't necessarily use. So why not collect the BBC "fee" through Council Tax and the commercial equivalent.

  98. BonerNose

    I seem to recall that powerline adapters emit a large amount of RF 'noise', so they certainly aren't invisible. The radio HAMs were up in arms, and tried to get them banned not so long ago.

  99. J. R. Hartley

    That's the biggest load of bollock I've ever read in my life

    As per title

  100. ashdav

    This is all FUD

    Some years ago, in a previous employment, I had contact with the (then) Home Office Radio Regulatory Department in Whitehall.

    On one occasion I went to their facility in Honeypot Lane, Stanmore.

    I asked of my contact "Aren't they TV detector vans?" Pointing to the grey Commer/Bedford vehicles.

    He sniggered and said go and look inside.

    There was a seat in the back just under the "DF loop" aerial on the roof so that you could reach the handle to turn it.

    There was nothing else in there.

    He confirmed there never had been in any of them (and this was part of his job).

    This packet sniffing is complete rubbish. Just hide your SSID if you're paranoid/careful.

    RIP Ian (my contact)

    1. Stuart Castle Silver badge

      Re: This is all FUD

      "This packet sniffing is complete rubbish. Just hide your SSID if you're paranoid/careful."

      Won't make a blind bit of difference. The packets are still available to sniff, and still contain your IP address (which your ISP will be able to tie to your physical address should they be required to).

      Remember, a few years back, Google managed to do exactly the same thing with their Street View cars, even if it was apparently a mistake on their part.

  101. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not that im condoning this as a real application, but hypothetically surely a small hard wired box of some fruit based manufacture (there are a few) running a penguin esk operating system, could very happily connect to a vpn (using spoofed mac), have a hard drive connected to it, you would view the page you wanted to on said streaming video website and then copy the url, an apache service running on the same box would then accept said url via a php page, this would fire a script to launch a popular stream ripper to go and collect said video and deposit it onto the hard drive.

    Then you would watch said file using a samba service on x wifi connected device.

    This hypothetically renders any mythical dpi detection system they have worthless, means said web server can only see the vpn and spoofed mac (rendering the server logs also worthless), plus you get to keep said file for as long as you want instead of 14 days.

    It actually wouldn't be that hard to probably get the proxy to inject a button onto any page from x domain that would fire off the fetch stream script and forgo the copy and paste head ache... speaking hypothetically of course.

  102. cageordie

    I use wired on this machine. But then I live in a country where you can shoot trespassers, though sadly not one where I can actually watch the BBC. So who cares what I thing ;-)

  103. Shadow Systems

    Is tv worth it anymore?

    Many years ago I decided to try an experiment.

    I decided that I would stop using my tv for television watching, but other uses (DVD movies, as the display for my PlayStation 2, etc) would be permissible.

    I finished watching the show that was on (an episode of Star Trek) & kept it off (no tv uses) for a full year.

    I turned it on exactly one year later & to my disgust I realized that it was the Exact Same Channel that I had been on when I started the experiment and The Exact Same Episode of Star Trek.

    I decided at that point that tv was essentially useless for watching television broadcasts & haven't looked back.

    Has the quality of tv shows gotten any better in, say, the last decade?

    Is it worth even owning one for anything other than as the display for your game console?

    Does one do anything other than act as a dust magnet you have to clean regularly so it doesn't start breeding Dust Bunnies?

    Serious questions:

    I'm a Yank & thus have no real idea of the quality of British tv specificly, but is it worth owning a tv for at all?

    What kinds of shows are out there that are worth watching, ones that you can't get via an online source rather than an OTA antenna, cable subscription, satelite dish, or buying DVD's from the local Tesco from their offerings of "current episodes" bin?

    1. Anonymous Noel Coward

      Re: Is tv worth it anymore?

      What was the Star Trek episode? The world needs to know!

      1. Shadow Systems

        @AC, Re: the episode of StarTrek.

        It was the one where the Captain sent out an Away Team of red shirts to explore a strange new World & the whole team gets eaten in a horribly gruesome fashion. Meanwhile the Captain got to shag some hawt green alien woman, the 2nd In Command ended up wearing egg on his face, the Weapons Officer screamed about photon torpedos, the Science Officer suggested reversing the polarity of the main deflector dish, the Communications Officer got to tell everyone that aliens were hailing the ship while she wiggled her boobs, and some guy whom acted all smug & uppity got to mock the Captain until he (not the Captain) was proven to be an utter putz by an errudite comment made by one of the Extras.

        Oh, and there may have been something in there somewhere about Klingon's off the Starboard bow.


  104. jimdandy

    Detector Vans?

    Perhaps as an older and across-the-pond fellow I might mention that this is not new at all. Monty Python had it very well squared away: Cat Detector Vans.

    Look it up you sods.

  105. SharkNose

    And if I use an ethernet cable or 3G/4G to stream iPlayer content and disable my WiFi network, how will they detect that?

  106. DamonR

    Wi-Fi Shmi-Fi

    Classic misdirection. No wi-fi, packet sniffing or magic internet access required.

    There's 2 things here:

    - watching live TV on the iplayer (always needed a licence anyway, but to date impossible to detect) and

    - watching catch up (will need a licence soon so the iPlayer App, and perhaps website, will no doubt be updated so you have to have an account and register a licence for your home address. No problem there.)

    For the first, though, the Beeb know who doesn't have a licence. All they therefore have to do is point a laser microphone at what looks like an occupied window early evening and hey presto, they can match the background noise within to a live transmission. Shazam for live TV. Doesn't have to be BBC, any live channel requires a TV licence. Problem - don't want to mention lasers or technology limitations to public. Solution, just announce they have a way of detecting TV being watched live over wi-fi and let journalists and indignant privacy campaigners fill in the bits they can't even do, but will generate enough publicity to have the effect they want.

  107. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ffs scrap the bleedy license, fund the BBC out of general taxation. no "detector van's", no endless bureaucracy sending out license reminds with the name spelt wrong, no chiselling bastards not paying the thing. JUST GET RID OF IT

  108. Smitty

    Or they could just ask for licence details...

    I don't get why they just don't force you to hand over your licence number when you sign up for IPllayer.

    No valid licence number = no iPlayer for you.

    Simply, cheap and effective.

  109. Greg D

    So we're good if we use a wired network?

    I'll be fine then. Wi-Fi is shit anyway, too slow and unreliable.

    Not that I really ever watch iPlayer. Or any TV in general. When I do, these days its from Amazon or Netflix, which I'm payed up for.

  110. Johnny G

    Court evidence

    Surely the ambiguity over the apparent "secret technology" will (and would have in the past) have to be reviled the first time a conviction is challenged in court. The prosecution would have to produce the evidence to prove someone was watching TV or iPlayer etc.

  111. Smitty

    I live in Ireland where we also have a TV licence, but unlike the UK the offerings of our state broadcast are piss-poor (Ryan Bloody Tubridy everywhere) and there are adverts as well.

    Also unlike the UK is the power the TV licence inspectors have. In the UK they are simply Capita employees - they have no legal powers, even though they imply otherwise.

    Here they work for a special division of the post office and have the legal right to enter your property without permission and force you to sign statutory declarations. They don't do this in practice, but my god they are the most horrifically abusive civil servants I have ever encountered in my life.

    We don't have a TV, we stream everything to tablets and laptops. So when the TV licence inspector calls round they will demand access to prove we don't have one - I'll refuse. Then he'll start shouting at me and threatening to issue me a summons. I'll tell him that he didn't show any ID and he's not wearing any form of a uniform and has dinner stains on his jumper. He'll ask why does that matter and I'll respond that without ID and/or a uniform I don't know who he really is, plus I could assume he is a drunk tapping for money judging by the state of his clothes. He'll repeat the summons line and say he saw a TV, I'll respond with "Go ahead and perjure yourself, I dare you!"

    He'll go a way in a huff and then come back a week or two later to repeat the process. At some point he'll say we should just buy a licence to get him off his our our backs.

    Then one day my wife will answer the door, the inspector will tell my 6 year old son who is peeking through that mummy will be going to prison for not having a licence and that will be enough for her to give up in frustration and buy the licence.

    Of course we go to the Garda about this, but they seem disinterested.

    Bad as the BBC and Capitas tactics are, they could be worse.

  112. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't live in the UK, so I don't understand why this needs to be so complicated. Why don't they just make iPlayer access restricted to license fee payers? There are hordes of cable/sat companies that have similar online alternatives to their traditional broadcasting - usually you can just login and use your license/subscription details to create an account for the online service which would usually be restricted to a number of simultaneous devices (like Netflix). This would make sense in the UK as it could also allow access to licensees travelling abroad, etc.

  113. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pay up and stop moaning you tight bastards

    I'm perfectly happy to pay the license fee, it's far better value than things like Sky subscriptions. My free trial of Netflix was enough to convince me that wasn't worth paying for - surprisingly far less choice than LoveFilm (the postal DVD rental service before we had fast broadband).

    I do pay Virgin for cable but that's because TV reception was unreliable, I get better catch-up/recording options and TV is bundled with 150Mbps broadband and telephone.

    On holiday in the USA the TV was so bad I soon stopped trying to watch anything. In UK even the ad-funded TV channels are more watchable.

    I don't watch a lot of TV and am fairly channel agnostic so it may be effectively costing me a pound an hour to watch BBC - compare that with what you'd pay for theatre, cinema, concert etc and it's still a fantastic bargain. And remember that the BBC also delivers some excellent radio programs and web sites requiring no license, fees or advertising revenue. I'd pay my £145 just to get Radio 4. You may not like Radio 4 but there are plenty more free BBC resources and I'd be amazed if none match your entertainment needs.

    Bugger the skinflints who moan about "there's nothing any good on BBC" they fall into two camps: those too thick to be able to understand anything more intellectually demanding than a bunch of guys kicking a ball around and the tight bastards who don't want to pay for anything if they can scrounge a freebie (probably roll their own cigarettes from discarded fag-ends and finish off left over dregs of other peoples drinks in the pub). Which are you?

    The problem is really with BBC management. They suffer the same malaise that adversely affects too much of our national life. Too risk averse, politically correct, dare not offend anyone, not willing to take the kind of risks that resulted in programs like Monty Python. When they try to respond to that criticism the "risks" they take with "new talent" are subject to so many constraints and management oversight that the results are usually rubbish. At the same time they happily run a massive bureaucracy and some very generous salaries and get bumped into paying a handful of over-rated performers who consider themselves "stars" (Jonathan Ross - WTF??) monopoly money.

    The license fee is flawed but is at least a way of capping the BBC's spend, if it came from general taxation it would inevitably be at the cost of (even) greater political interference.

    When I say flawed what I mean is it fails to charge the freeloaders who moan that it's not worth paying for but then try to find ways of watching for nothing.

    Then there are the threatening letters to my business address (still, despite it having closed down 2 years ago) which assume I let my staff watch TV on their work PCs and that therefore I need a license. That's not why I employed people and provided them with internet connected PCs, if I caught anyone watching TV when they were supposed to be working it would be a disciplinary offense. (Similar issues arise from PRS and PPL making assumptions that I allowed people to listen to music at work and demanding £££ despite my repeated denials and written staff policies specifying that TV or Music at work was a disciplinary offense.)

    1. King Jack
      Thumb Down

      Re: Pay up and stop moaning you tight bastards

      Why do fans of the BBC extortion racket always throw in the radio stations? A TV licence is not needed for the radio, you may as well say the licence includes sunshine as an added bonus. Many free thinking people hate being forced to do things, They hate the threats which is all part and parcel of the licence fee. Why don't you and your mates who are happy to pay, pay double? I mean according to you it is worth every penny. Throw in an Xmas bonus too, why not?

      Have you asked yourself why no other organisation is funded like the BBC? The answer is it would be illegal. Forcing people to pay you while they use another service, sending threats through the mail. If I set up a company I'd kill to have every household in the UK paying me whether they use me or not. And no, Hospitals and libraries are needed. Nobody 'needs' a TV channel.

      1. Nano nano

        Re: Pay up and stop moaning you tight bastards

        I've never used the Forth rail bridge - and yet my taxes are funding it !!

    2. villandra

      Re: Pay up and stop moaning you tight bastards

      If this furor about household searches to see if you have a TV is about watching BBC, no worries. BBC must have few enough viewers already, their programming is so dull!

  114. Nano nano

    Does The Beeb already correlate Sky subscription fees with licence fees - or does Sky already do that for the BBC ?

  115. Nano nano

    It's too late to stem the flow of comments from the Anti-BBC "stop these bastards jailing innocent people" brigade ... but it sounds like some John- Whittingdale-inspired scare story to me.

  116. hellsatan

    point laser at window, detect vibrations, convert to audio, et voila you can hear somebody watching tv in their house even through double or triple glazing. Pretty sure its not an overwhelming technical challenge these days to know if that programme was hosted on IPlayer servers, you could in fact inaudibly add a sonic watermark if you so wished...

    1. Bawsnia2

      I'll see your laser window amplification microphone

      And raise you with heavy linen curtains and blinds.

      I had a whole shpeel about written about the extortion of the licence fee, us being proles and using non payers court cases as propaganda to keep us paying. Then accidentally refreshed my page, twat.

      They go through this charade of enforcement because if they gave us the choice by making it a subscription based service they would be bankrupt in a week. They need us to keep paying the licence fee, and fear is a good motivator.

      Sadly it is just easier to pay the fee to keep the savages at Capita off your back than fight to prove against your assumed guilt if you don't have a licence. Hats off to you good people who do though and who don't watch teh BBC because it is a bit shit.

      Whats worse, it will only get worse if it is a civil offence i.e. decriminalised, as you will be liable for Capita's court and lawyers costs if you are found guilty of non payment.

      Not to give them any ideas but if I wanted to detect a stream I would add a udp packet watermark of a set length of packets in a set order that they could detect, even encypted. like 16 bytes data, 128 bytes data, 32 bytes data, 256 bytes data then 10 packets of 1 then 2 then 3 then 4 then 5 then 6 then 7 then 8 then 9 then finally 10 bytes of data. Even with encryption overhead you could work out the pattern.

      At the end of the day it's a tax in the form of a licence. Cunts, take my £14 and leave me to my homes under the hammer.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Thought double glazing stuffed up this technique

      but anyway - surely the BBC servers know which IP addresses are accessing their web servers (assuming no proxys being used). Isn't it straight forward with IP provider assistance to match the IP to an address.

  117. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This sounds a load of cobblers given that I seem to recall reading somewhere that they only have about 60 vans for the entire UK...

  118. Davey1000

    Wi-Fi Intercepts

    The difficulties that wi-fi detector vans will have is quite considerable as in a city there will be wi-fi sources everywhere. Tower blocks will of course be another problem. As to the data-packets, how will they be able to tell the difference between YouTube video and BBC video data packets? Presumably they would need to crack the wi-fi password to do that? The vans will of course be "frighteners" intended to make the gullible cough-up.

    Decades ago in the days of CRT televisions, detection was easier as the wood and plastic TV cabinets gave no screening whatsoever against electromagnetic radiation. One chap that I heard about didn't like this so he took his telly to bits and lined the cabinet with two layers of very fine chicken wire. The chicken-wire is also superb for supressing ignition noise on fibreglass cars (Leyland Minis with fibreglass fronts used to be very naughty with severe radio interference until doctored)

    There needs to be another way to finance public service broadcasting as the present method is worse than the Poll Tax.

  119. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Surely they could just use directional microphone doodah's pointed at your living room window?

    If you're watching live telly, the chances are you will have the sound on, which will be easy to match. No need for RF magic or deep packet inspection, just someone with good hearing in a van.

    Watch TV for free, use subtitles!

    You're welcome.

  120. SharkNose


    Maybe Netflix will start using detector vans as well rather than stupid ideas like username/password, because obviously it's such a great idea that the Beeb has...

  121. villandra

    Are you telling me someone is saying you will NEED TO BUY A LICENSE to watch OFF THE AIR TELEVISION in Britain?

    I am SO glad my ancestors left that God-foresaken place. My ancestors were Puritans and Scots. They saw which way English society was heading!

    Get a plain old wall antenna and watch away, for God's sake. I can't wait for any protest about it to reach the courts - even in medieval England!

    1. Nano nano

      We also get free healthcare - which is anathema to Americans ...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        It's only free if you're not a taxpayer.

  122. OffBeatMammal

    maybe the vans just contain stealthy gentlemen armed with a small drill and an endoscope camera and they simply observe rooms where suspect action takes place... low tech and they can even take photos of the evidence ;)

    in other news... as an ex-pat, I'd pay a license fee to watch the BBC here in the US (not the BBC America mess) but I suspect the audience isn't big enough for them to tweak iPlayer for the FireTV to support that...

  123. People's Poet

    Detector vans indeed!

    I can't believe El-Reg is even posting this and the amount of people who seem to think it has merit.

    If the government/BBC want to find out who's streaming from iPlayer it would just need to request that information from the ISP.

    So many experts on here trying to show their knowledge of packet sniffing, encryption and vans and getting sucked into a nonsense argument.

    Article was clearly written by someone who got their knowledge of IT from Hollywood.

  124. DubyaG

    I have heard about the cat detector vans and what they are like. My pet cat's name is Eric.

  125. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is a fascinating site with some interesting conclusions

  126. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    capturing of people's private wireless packets

    Wait a second, doesn't this make them guilty of the exact same offence which used to be used to nail car drivers who used speed camera detectors? (which iirc was aimed at interception of radio signals)

    "The BBC can't really take a list of all the unique IP addresses accessing iPlayer and ask all the ISPs for all the corresponding home addresses of their subscribers so the Beeb can check to see if they've all paid their TV licences"

    No that would be absurd. But even more absurd is that they don't seem to have considered the simplest possible approach of linking iPlayer accounts with online TV license accounts ... given that the TV license can now be managed entirely online.

  127. ianp5

    We know what's best for you

    As BT's home Internet service seems to insist on making everyone a hotspot I hope they know it's not the neighbours streaming BBC.

    Aside from any technical incongruities this smells badly doesn't it? The usual government; "Don't worry this law is only to protect you from really bad people and of course we'd never sell or provide your medical data, habits, genome etc or use it in any other way than the initial intent". Unfortunately laws get used however they can be regardless of original intent and government is too slack in wording legislation to prevent misuse - on purpose one wonders?

  128. Solar

    Detector vans? Just log in.

    It's rubbish. If the BBC wanted to enforce the licensing why would they engage in a complex hardware solution when instead they could implement log in / account functionality? Such an approach is 'well understood' to say the least.

    This was what my non-technical wife asked me when I was trying to rationalise how the detector vans could work.

  129. Allan George Dyer

    Easy detection...

    I don't think anyone else has mentioned (apologies if they have) the story I was told when young. While it is technically possible to detect the stray signals from a working TV, it's a lot easier to look for the aerials and cross-reference to the list of licenses. Of course, the old, VHF H-shaped aerials were big and easy to spot.

  130. Alan Edwards

    I've just broken their detector...

    My streaming box that does iPlayer is connected via Ethernet, it doesn't touch the wireless network.

    Technically they could try and get into the (encrypted) powerline Ethernet connection between the rooms, I understand those things leak a bit, but I would think they'd just move on to a softer target who was using wireless.

    Even if the Shield TV was on the wireless network, good luck telling the traffic from Twitch or my local Plex server from an iPlayer stream.

  131. elljay75

    Haven't read all the comments, however.....

    I'd say they could probably try and use the same "evidence" that the big Hollywood $tudios use .. namely tracking your IP address from the website. Bear in mind that, AFAIK, the BBC monitor and record your iPlayer history - all they theoretically need to do is correlate an IP address with a subscriber ID (for example, from Virgin / BT / some other ISP) and then Auntie is well and truly up your fanny .....

  132. This Side Up

    Wouldn't it be much simpler...

    to pay the licence fee out of general taxation, on the basis of the existing fee times number of households? That would eliminate all the costs associated with administering, collecting and enforcing the licence fee as well as the complications with free over-75s licences. Tax threshholds would be reduced slightly to compensate.

    That would automatically cover all UK citizens watching any BBC content on any device at any time in any place. It would only leave out overseas visitors, and special arrangements could be made for large hotels e.g. through a tourist tax. Small B&Bs could be disregarded.

    Of course people will cry "why should I pay the licence fee if I don't watch the BBC?". They always do. But commercial tv costs us far more than the BBC licence fee and we don't have any say. And with commercial tv we have to pay for not just the programmes (mostly trash) but also the cost of making the ads (mostly annoying trash). I can't ask Sainsbury's for a discount because I don't watch their adverts or those of any brands they sell. Ditto any other shop.

    Btw there is no longer any such thing as "live tv". It's all at lease two seconds old by the time we see it - more for HD.

  133. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Am I missing something here?

    Erm, something that I cannot fathom regarding the iPlayer, is: just have a sign-in account to access it. If you've paid your licence fee then all is well and good. If you've not paid, your account is blocked until you top-up your account. Top-up access could be available for a day, a week, a month, or a year - pay online by Paypal or other means. Seems simple to me - no need for WiFi sniffing or whatever.

    1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      Re: Am I missing something here?

      If people got flexibility in paying, then the BBC would quickly end up having to fire 90% of their people and get rid of a similar amount of real estate. That's why they keep using the licensing system. If you have a TV tuner, pay. Or else... Simple extortion.

  134. JustNiz

    so just use an ethernet cable between your TV/PC and your router.

  135. TheVogon

    Or use Powerline connectors if an Ethernet cable isn't convenient...

  136. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What if

    It turns out aliens have indeed been listening in to our TV and radio broadcasts?

    Good luck trying to get the license fee out of a planet 39.73 light years away.

    Based on relativistic effects I've calculated that they should show up around 2033, when the digital revolution catches up with them and their receiver(s) go dark. In this case L in the Drake Equation is just under 78 years.

    (icon: Alien)

  137. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I believe it was the case that the BBC only had about 13 or so vans for the entire UK and also, that there had never been a prosecution resulting from someone being detected by one of these vans.

    Also, just like torrenting, good luck with trying to identify the person who was using the wifi at any particular time...

  138. EGeee

    Plug and don't Pay...

    For argument's sake, let's pretend that this technology really does work as advertised.

    Wouldn't miscreants just watch iPlayer with an Ethernet cable?

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