Licence misuse and licence revocation

04 May 2010

Abuse of radio comes in several forms. However, most of it is designed either to deny access to the spectrum or to offend and annoy by causing deliberate interference, using offensive language, playing music, pirating call signs, keying out other users etc.

On the amateur service, abuse is most commonly aimed at open access facilities such as voice repeater and packet networks so as to cause a nuisance to the maximum number of people and attract attention. Less common, but just as serious, is the abuser who targets individual operators or specific radio services.

The Wireless Telegraphy (Content of Transmission) Regulations 1988 makes it an offence to send a message, communication or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an obscene or menacing character. In considering such cases, it is important to remember that the courts need evidence that the language used in the alleged offence is worse than that encountered in everyday life.

What can Ofcom do?

Ofcom has legal powers to enforce the law and penalties imposed by the courts can be severe. Offences tried in a magistrate's court attract a maximum penalty of (GBP) 5,000 and/or imprisonment for a maximum term of 51 weeks. In addition, a court may order all or any of the apparatus of the station and other apparatus used in the commission of the offence to be forfeited. Another possibility is licence revocation as described in the section below. This is a separate procedure that is quite independent of any court action, although most revocations take place following a successful prosecution.

Expectations

Enforcement work is not easy. It takes many hours of quiet and painstaking work. It often involves gathering many pieces of information from a variety of sources and then verifying it by monitoring and other investigations. We welcome reports of abuse but will not necessarily be able to say anything about what has been done with the information because investigations are confidential. It may be that a prosecution is pending and the case will be under judicial deliberation until the conclusion of proceedings.

Reporting abuse

(a) Amateur Abuse. The amateur radio movement has its own observation service and its objective is to monitor problems on the amateur bands and try to resolve them amicably. It is called the Amateur Radio Observation Service (AROS), and works through a network of observers who operate confidentially. If you send the information you have collected to AROS either directly or, preferably, via your club or repeater group, then AROS can look into the problem and attempt to resolve it. Often it will succeed but in cases of persistent abuse AROS will send fully documented cases to Ofcom for possible action. AROS can be contacted at:

AROS
Radio Society of Great Britain
3 Abbey Court
Fraser Road
Priory Business Park
Bedford
MK44 3WH

(b) Alternatively use the following link if you would like to report the abuse directly to Ofcom: Report abuse on an amateur radio system.

What should I do if I encounter abuse?

  • Do not respond to it. Experience suggests that abusers want an audience, so ignore them. Remember that you may be breaking your own licence conditions if you correspond with someone who is breaking the terms of their licence or who does not have a licence or if you try to deny them access by keying your microphone.
  • Do not approach or confront them.
  • If abuse occurs frequently, make a note of it. Write down essential details such as the date, time, frequency, location, mobile or fixed, what form the abuse took and any other factors that you think might be useful.
  • Maintain this log in order to build up a pattern of the abuser's operations.
  • Make sure the information you collect is precise and accurate.

What is the revocation process?

A licence remains valid unless we notify the licensee that the licence has been formally revoked. If we wish to revoke a licence, we must follow a prescribed process. This is set down in legislation (Schedule 1 to the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006, as amended). We must formally notify you of our proposal to revoke your licence and allow you to make representations about that proposal, within a set period of time. That notification will include reasons for the proposal. At the end of the period for representations, we have a month to reach our decision though we may not need that long. We must notify you of our decision within a week of making it. If we decide to revoke your licence, only then will it be revoked and it remains valid until then. If you use your station after your licence has been revoked you commit an offence. On conviction, you risk a fine, imprisonment and the forfeiture of your station.