The Council of Europe has voted to 'ban' the Mosquito anti-youth device, despite having no power to enforce the ban, as the device's manufacture is keen to point out.
The Mosquito is a small device that makes a buzzing sound below the hearing threshold of (almost) everyone over 20, thus dispersing groups of yoofs who might gather outside a shop or similar. Mosquito is almost certainly legal, but that's not stopping just about everyone calling for a ban on the device.
Everyone, that is, apart from the Welsh manufacturer, Compound Security, which has long argued for a licensing system that would see the (patented) technology limited to police forces and local authorities, rather than the free-for-all that we currently have.
The European parliament voted against a ban in 2008, and various governments have considered the matter, but interfering with European trade is dangerous ground. If the device is legal in the EU then Compound Security have a legally protected right to sell it, and it's not easy to find a specific law that the technology breaks.
The box pumps out sound between 16-18kHz at a volume up to 95dB. It's an annoying buzzing sound if you can hear it, but if you're over 20 you'll almost certainly not hear anything. Activated by a motion detector or remote control, the box buzzes for 20 minutes (long enough to disperse the gathered youth) and then switches itself off until activated again.
The Council of Europe recommendation tries the health-and-safety angle: "although there is no indication that other health effects might be associated with this device, further medical tests are required", the human rights angle: "[teenagers] feel victimised and offended and regard this treatment as clear discrimination against youngsters", and even the torture angle: "Although the use of the 'Mosquito' is not in itself deliberate torture ... Article 3 of the ECHR forbids 'inhuman and degrading treatment'. If used against a large group of young people gathered in a public place, then the 'Mosquito' device falls into this category."
Compound Security is having none of it, saying that anyone is free to walk away and that "Article 11 of ECHR provides a right to assemble with other people in a peaceful way. However, such assembly must be without violence or threat of violence ... we do not consider that this right includes the right of teenagers to congregate for no specific purpose, and therefore this right is not being infringed by the use of the Device."
The Council's most compelling argument, that it upsets passing babies and toddlers to the alarm of their parents, has no basis in law, so it isn't pertinent in this context. It would be hard to legislate against making noises that upset toddlers, desirable as that might be.
Only the European Parliament has the power to ban the Mosquito - the Council of Europe can only ask appropriate national or local authorities to ban something that it believes "clearly infringes" on human rights.
Realistically that's not going to happen any time soon, not least because of the complexity of creating such legislation, so by the time any restrictions are passed the current youth will probably be old enough to want to see the same thing applied to the next generation. ®