A “teen repellant” anti-loitering device that has sparked controversy in some European countries is catching on fast in Canada.
The Mosquito emits an irritating high-frequency sound that can only be heard by those between the ages of 13 and 25, raising concerns in some European countries that the device is discriminatory toward young people.
Due to presbycusis — age-related hearing loss — people over 25 cannot detect the sound of the Mosquito. Although only 85 decibels, young people find the sound extremely annoying and disperse within minutes of hearing it.
This has made the Mosquito increasingly popular with school boards, malls, convenience stores and municipalities seeking to deter rowdy gangs of teens from getting up to no good late at night.
At the Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows school district in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, the device has been credited with lowering exterior vandalism at one school by about 40 per cent says Kathie Ward, board of education vice-chair and chair of the district’s anti-vandalism committee.
“We weren’t finding the broken bottles, party paraphernalia, the broken windows…. To see the significant drop of vandalism at that school we thought we were being successful with the Mosquito.”
Now the board is planning to use the device at another school in the district where youth have been lighting small fires and causing other damage.
Mike Gibson, president of the Mosquito Group, the company that markets the device in North America, says about 200 have sold so far in Canada, mostly in British Columbia.
But thousands are in use in the United Kingdom, where a row is brewing over whether the device infringes on kids’ civil liberties. A human rights group has started a campaign to have the Mosquito banned, calling it a “sonic weapon directed against children and young people.”
Ian Kerr, Canada research chair in Ethics, Law and Technology at the University of Ottawa, says the Mosquito raises issues such as equality, privacy and the invasion of peoples’ personal space without consent.
Because it has the power to control certain groups by moving them along, he says such technology could have a broader — and more sinister — application in the future.
“These technologies are rapidly developing and rapidly emerging. If you had a host of these technologies working in concert what we’d really be getting at would be a different way of controlling society rather than the social negotiation of having a rule and talking with people…. It removes people from the equation which is one of the things I’ve been concerned about."
Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, in a National Post article called such devices “an assault on human dignity.” Davies even went so far as to say that “ultrasonic technology used in this way should be regarded as criminal assault.”
Gibson says the Mosquito is simply a harmless, non-confrontational way to get teenagers to move away from areas at times when they’re not supposed to be there. Businesses such as convenience stores use remote controls to activate it.
“If kids are standing outside the door drinking pop they don’t deploy it at that point. But if you get teenagers deterring customers from coming into the store, making customers feel uncomfortable, that’s when they activate it, and it only stays on for 20 minutes.”
Gibson adds that his company employs standards to ensure that the Mosquito isn’t abused.
“This is meant for private property — you can’t be mounting this on your car. We get a lot of calls from people who own homes and we do not sell to residents. This is for commercial use only.”
Welsh inventor Howard Stapleton, creator of the Mosquito, has asked European governments to legislate guidelines governing its use.
Cell phone ring-tones are now available that use a similar high-frequency sound and has become popular with teens who want to hide their incoming calls from teachers or parents.
Ward says that in the 2007/08 school year, the cost of vandalism at the Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows school district came to $600,000, an amount she believes would be much higher if not for the Mosquito and other anti-vandalism deterrents employed by the school.
“I don’t believe [the Mosquito] is infringing on their rights. We have the right to protect our buildings. We clearly have them marked that after 10 pm you’re trespassing. So those who are hanging around our school after that time: what are you doing there, shouldn’t you be at home in bed?”