Fines for web-use that interferes with radio signals

Telecoms regulator Ofcom has proposed prosecution and fines of up to £5,000 for ordinary internet users whose connection persistently interferes with radio signals.

Government Agency GCHQ has lobbied the watchdog to update its regulations after becoming concerned at increased use of so-called ‘power line’ network technology.

Power-line allows users to connect to the internet using the mains wiring in their homes rather than their telephone line.

An alternative to wi-fi, the technology has been provided to some customers of BT and TalkTalk as a way of connecting television set-top boxes to broadband.

GCHQ and British emergency services claim that such technology could pose a threat to safety and national security.

The power line networks can emit electromagnetic radiation that interferes with radio signals on channels used by ambulance drivers, the police and air traffic control. In addition, the BBC has said that power line technology also affects DAB radio broadcasts.

GCHQ’s interest largely comes about because the agency monitors military signals that can already be weak, and may not be decipherable at all if affected by electromagnetic interference.

Ofcom has released a statement, saying ‘communications networks form an important part of the UK’s national infrastructure, both directly and as an input to other services including safety and security services, utilities and industry eg banking’.

‘Communications networks are a key aspect on which these services depend for their organisation and operation, and therefore it is important to protect their correct function from undue interference’.

Under these latest proposals, telecoms operators could force subscribers to shut down the networks, and the customer could face prosecution and a hefty fine if they do not comply, particularly in situations where lives could be put at risk.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, offenders could be looking at up to three months in prison.

Current legislation under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 already prohibits sale of equipment that is likely to cause problems. It also prohibits the hacking of such technology with the intention of turning it into a monitoring device. However it does not take into account legally provided equipment that has deteriorated or been poorly installed or maintained.

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