A number of shopping malls and businesses are deploying high-pitched sonic devices to combat what they describe as anti-social behaviour by young people. The so called ‘mosquito devices’ emit high frequencies which can only be heard by people aged 25 or under.
Mosquito devices used to deter young people from loitering
In 2016, a community legal centre forced a Queensland shopping centre to stop using a sonic device after its own workers complained of headaches and ringing ears. The legal centre received a number of complaints about a high-pitched piercing sound that they could hear at the local shopping centre.
The shopping centre’s management claimed that the device had been turned on for 24 hours a day with the purpose of deterring young people from loitering. The device was eventually removed from the shopping centre.
Safety concerns for young people
It is unclear what long-term effects the devices have on children and young people. This may particularly affect those with autism or other neuro-diverse conditions that may have high sensitivity to sound.
According to the UK company which invented the device, Compound Security Solutions, it is “safe” and not painful, just highly annoying. However, the young workers in the Queensland case above reported experiencing pain and ringing ears for hours after leaving the device’s range. Prolonged exposure and close proximity to the devices could potentially have harmful long-term effects.
Device discriminates against young people
The device has the purpose of deterring young people from loitering and causing a nuisance in public spaces. However, the majority of young people perform lawful activities in public spaces. Despite this fact, the device has a blanket effect on all young people regardless of their behaviour. It deliberately discriminates against young people by interfering with their right to freedom of movement and peaceful assembly.
It is uncertain how frequently the sonic devices are used throughout the country given that they are used under the radar. There are also no laws that prohibit or govern their use. This is concerning because it means that anybody can purchase a device and use it accordingly.
Neighbours use mosquito device to silence noisy children
For example, a couple in the UK reportedly purchased a sonic device online and used it to stop their neighbour’s children screaming in the garden. The parents of the children claimed that the sound was switched on for hours at a time, causing extreme distress to the children.
Whilst there have been no similar incidents reported in Australia, there is nothing preventing anyone from obtaining these devices. These sonic devices should be banned given the safety concerns and discriminatory effect on young people that have already been highlighted.