The annoying buzz that is teenagers

29th February 2008 at 00:00
When I was invited onto a radio debate programme to discuss the new Mosquito - a device that gives off a high-pitched noise to disperse young people - I thought someone was having a laugh. But apparently not.

Invented by Howard Stapleton, this new "antisocial behaviour"-busting device that can only be heard by young people, and is so irritating it forces teenagers to disperse from wherever they are congregating, is selling well and is on trial in a number of council and police departments around the country.

A researcher for the radio show had already tracked down one of these devices outside a bookies in Glasgow, where local youths explained to him how it went on for five minutes and then off again, which was long enough to "persuade" them to move on.

I usually get irritated by talk of a "police state", but this acceptance of young people being arbitrarily treated like rodents and dispersed simply by a dog-whistle type noise appears to fit the description. It is a world in which former "public" space is dominated by the mind set of small shopkeepers and the police.

The Mosquito is the equivalent of a mechanical ASBO - a new mechanism for regulating the largely non-criminal behaviour of youths - predicated upon the policing of people's fears, rather than of any criminal activity. Scared of the kids? Get a Mosquito. Sorted. Civil liberties supporters have launched a campaign called "Buzz Off" in an attempt to ban the Mosquito, while some MSPs have argued that the device should be regulated.

But the calls for regulations and bans by those standing up for "children's rights", while at times being well intended, appear to replicate the Mosquito issue in one key regard - it bypasses the public and, like ASBOs, replaces the public with laws.

Liberty, for example, in its "campaign" against the Mosquito, has asked that someone step forward to "help us challenge the Mosquito in court".

This should not be seen as an issue of "children's rights", and fought over in the corridors of Brussels by lawyers (which is no doubt where it will be heading). This is a public issue, a political issue, and should be debated in communities, town halls and ultimately Parliament. Involving the public in a debate of this kind can perhaps avoid yet another aspect of life being handed over to professional regulators and lawyers.

Stuart Waiton is director of GenerationYouthIssues.org, which is launching a public campaign against the Mosquito.

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