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'Mosquito' device slapped down

The Taylor St Community Legal Service has intervened to end use of the ‘Mosquito device’ at a local shopping centre.

The Mosquito device emits a high frequency tone that is able to be heard generally by people up to the age of about 25 years and disrupts equilibrium. They are marketed as an ‘anti-loitering’ device. Reactions to the device vary from person to person and can include mild to extreme discomfort, migraines, tinnitus, temporary deafness, dizziness, bodily pain, nausea, headaches and impairment. The long-term effect on hearing and general health is not known.

During initial contact with the centre, a spokesperson expressed the view that young people are more likely to commit public nuisance, and possibly crime, based on their age. Further, that they were unconcerned with principles of discrimination in this context and did not consider that the rights of young people, including those behaving lawfully, were being infringed.

The Taylor Street Community Legal Service was deeply concerned by this discriminatory attitude which assumes certain behaviour of young people resulting in a practice that collectively punishes a group according to an attribute (age) instead of individual behaviour.

The device was installed at an entrance adjacent to a busy bus stop used by people of many ages including school-aged children. Use of this sonic weapon arguably constitutes assault and violates the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It constitutes direct discrimination on the basis of age in contravention of both the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld) and the Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth) by adversely affecting young people wishing to access goods and services within the shopping centre and the numerous young people employed by businesses within the centre.

Use of the device may also constitute direct or indirect discrimination on the basis of impairment/disability for wearers of hearing aids and those relying on assistance animals with perhaps greater susceptibility to the high frequency tone; and parental status/family responsibilities for parents with children under 25 years, particularly babies and infants with acute hearing.

Young people employed within the centre have experienced distressing ear-ringing and pain which continues for some time after leaving the field of coverage. On a visit to the centre, a Taylor Street staff member observed a young employee working beneath the device undertaking glass cleaning duties for the centre.

Of further concern are the health and safety aspects of exposure to this high frequency tone for young people and animals. There is no conclusive evidence that exposure is safe. The German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health stated in a report on the Mosquito, entitled "Use of ultrasonic noise channels not entirely safe" (14 December 2007):

The results of the examination are now available. The auditors were not able to certify this device as completely safe. The risk to the target group of teenagers and young adults is relatively low. They can leave the area when they hear the sound. On the other hand small children and infants are especially at risk, due to lengthy exposure to the sound, because the adults themselves do not perceive the noise. Moreover, the ultrasound affects not only hearing. Disruption of the equilibrium senses, as well as other extra-aural effects are well known. With the sound levels that can be reached by the device, the onset of dizziness, headache, nausea and impairment is to be expected. This is not the limit of the total risks to safety and health.

Although initial contact with the centre did not result in agreement to end use of the device, the centre has now agreed to disable it as a result of our continued communication.

Continued use of the device anywhere ultimately impacts on the right of all young people to live in a society free from discrimination and harm. The Taylor Street Community Legal Service calls on government to recognise the discriminatory nature of these devices and investigate product safety with a view to entirely banning its use within Australia.

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