Saturday, September 13, 2008

Device's high-pitch whine aimed at repelling young

Sounds like teen spirit

Device's high-pitch whine aimed at repelling young

Katie Rook, National Post Published: Monday, July 28, 2008 try{ var arr_da = document.getElementById('ad-leaderboard').getElementsByTagName('script'); for(var i in arr_da){ if(typeof(arr_da[i].src) != 'undefined' && (/http:\/\/ad\.ca\.doubleclick\.net/.test(arr_da[i].src))){ var str_da_src = arr_da[i].src; str_da_src = str_da_src.replace(/loc=\w+;/gi, 'loc=microbar;'); str_da_src = str_da_src.replace(/sz=\d+x\d+;/gi, 'sz=88x31;'); str_da_src = str_da_src.replace(/ptile=\d+;/gi, 'ptile=4;'); document.write('

Mike Gibson with Dynatrac systems is marketing the Mosquito, a teen repellant device that uses high-pitched audio.Gerry Kahrmann/Canwest News ServiceMike Gibson with Dynatrac systems is marketing the Mosquito, a teen repellant device that uses high-pitched audio.

A lineup of sedans and SUVs was snaking behind the suburban McDonald's take-out window late last Wednesday night when Yash Singh's silver Acura zipped across the plaza parking lot to Tim Hortons.

The 17-year-old's disappointment at finding the Mississauga, Ont., restaurant's front doors locked at 11 p. m. was eclipsed by annoyance as he became vaguely aware of a ringing in his ears that he would later describe as sounding "worse than nails on a blackboard."

Unbeknownst to Mr. Singh, a device emitting an irritating high-frequency sound audible only to people under 25 had been installed outside the restaurant to scatter young crowds known to loiter in the area after hours.

As use of such "ultrasonic" gadgets gains popularity among store owners, bar managers and even some school boards and municipalities wearied by the late-night indiscretions of youths, critics suggest technologies that surreptitiously broadcast sound waves compromise an individual's personal privacy and human rights.

"Ultrasonic technology used in this way should be regarded as criminal assault. Directing sound waves aggressively with intent to create harm, annoyance or distress would be unlawful in most civilized countries," Simon Davies, director of Privacy International and visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, wrote in an e-mail.

"The technique is not only a gross invasion of privacy, but is also an assault on human dignity. The technology should be swiftly outlawed."

The high-frequency sound emitted from ultrasonic devices targets young people with good hearing, but is usually inaudible to those 25 and older who have begun to lose their hearing.

Marshall Chasin, the director of research at the Musicians' Clinics of Canada, said the gradual loss of hearing over time is a common condition known as presbycusis.

"In each of our ears in the inner ear portion there are 13-15,000 nerve endings. If these nerve endings fail to transmit the sound to the brain we have a measurable hearing loss. This usually starts at age 50-55 and gradually, very slowly, progresses," he said.

Naturally occurring high-frequency or high-pitch sounds such as that of a mosquito can often only be detected by younger people. Some teenagers have taken advantage of this by using ultrasonic cellphone ringtones that their parents and teachers cannot hear.

"We start to lose our hearing in the very high pitches as early as our early twenties so a teenager has better hearing for the mosquito sounds than someone who is in their thirties or forties," Mr. Chasin said.

Devices such as the Mosquito Ultrasonic Teen Repellent send out a high-frequency sound in the range of about 18 kHz, said Mike Gibson, whose company the Mosquito Group has exclusive distribution rights for the product in North America.

The Mosquito, of which more than 200 have been sold in Canada, is endorsed by those intent on dispersing cliques of young people whose presence is unwelcome at certain points of the day.

"Bright lights, opera music just don't work. This is a non-confrontational way to get [young, bothersome youth] to move away from the area," Mr. Gibson said. "This is a benign way to get them to move that doesn't infringe on human rights."

Wall-to-wall graffiti and vandalism in Lower Mainland British Columbia drove administrators with the Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows school board to implement the Mosquito about three years ago.

Don Woytowich, the board's secretary treasurer, believes the device has played a key role in reducing the incidents of vandalism at one elementary school from 49 in its first year of use to 31 in its third year. Initially, a camera was also trained

on the immediate area surrounding the Mosquito to study the teens' reactions. Administrators were impressed both by the device's short and long-term effects.

"You'd see them start gather and in a very short time they would just leave. And then, in two to three days, maybe four days, they weren't even coming back," he said. "So what happened is that they found some other place to go, obviously, but they didn't even come back to that place anymore."

But the use of high-frequency sound waves to influence human behaviour requires society's consideration of where the boundary for personal privacy begins, says Ian Kerr, Canada Research Chair in Ethics Law and Technology at the University of Ottawa.

"What you see with this technology is that it becomes more and more easy to invade a person's space, except now we're [no longer] talking about the territorial space of a home, but we're actually talking about the physical parameters of the body," he said.

"Traditionally the safeguard for all this was consent. An officer at a border can't just search you at will or do a body cavity search -- God forbid -- or something really invasive to your body. Likewise, a doctor can't do any kind of procedure without your consent. So, what you're seeing [with some ultrasonic technology] is the application of a technology that impacts clearly on the central nervous system.

"You could ask yourself: In what sense is this different than a medical procedure if the same thing is done in a doctor's office when they are testing your hearing?"

Mr. Kerr's concerns about the use of ultrasonic technology to influence human behaviour are echoed by the U.K.-based inventor of the Mosquito Teen Repellent, Howard Stapleton, who in April called on European governments to legislate guidelines for its use.

The Mosquito Group advises customers to use the product intermittently and only in places where people are not supposed to be, Mr. Gibson said. "The rights of the few don't outweigh the rights of the many. How many times have you been walking down the street and you're subject to a Harley-Davidson going by, gunning it. You can't even talk to the person next to you, you have to actually stop talking. Is that an infringement on my rights?

"So, if I am a business owner and I have a convenience store and I have people dealing drugs outside the store or people just hanging out and customers don't come into the store, what do I do? Do I go broke? Do I just pack up my company and go away?"

Mr. Woytowich acknowledges that the use of ultrasonic sound technology to dissuade loitering and vandalism in certain spaces has limitations, but he believes that along with other measures the technology can be effective.

"All we know for sure is that [vandalism] is prevalent throughout the Lower Mainland here in B. C. Everywhere you look there is graffiti and there are broken windows and things are just not good.

"We know that all other school districts are having just a big a problem as we are ... because they keep calling us," he said.