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is an informative, cynical and sometimes humorous look at what is happening in the world of amateur radio.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

SA Plane Spotter Prosecution

Unemployed South African mechanic Jason Swift was arrested earlier in the year for illegal possession of an airband receiver and for listening in on "several radio frequencies". Following his arrest and prosecution local plane spotters have been warned that they will need to sit an exam and qualify as a radio amateur to legally possess popular airband receivers.

ICASA is the regulator for the South African communications sector, responsible for the regulation of broadcasting, postal and telecommunications services. They say that there is no specific licence for an airband receiver alone. SA Flyer Magazine recently published a list of frequencies that the general public are allowed to listen to they are AM (medium wave), commercial short wave bands, the FM band, television frequencies and low-power hand-held transceivers which operates on VHF CB frequencies – these do not include frequencies used by airlines.

The case has caused both national and international condemnation from aviation and civil liberties groups.
Swift was arrested in a parking area adjacent to OR Tambo International Airport. The editor of SA Flyer magazine Guy Leitch said that the South African aviation community was both perplexed and angry about the arrest and subsequent prosecution. One of the issues that was troubling, Leitch said, was that the state seemed to make no distinction between a receiver and a transmitter.“The state has five witnesses – including the woman who sold Swift the receiver. They are not just determined to throw the book at Julian – they are still writing a telephone directory and War and Peace to throw at him.” Last week the state amended the charge sheet against Swift to include every frequency on his receiver. Leitch said Swift’s counsel, Schalk van der Sandt, had objected to the continuous amending of the charge sheet.

The "illegal airband receiver" in question is said to be an R5000, which I assume refers to a Kenwood R5000. The Kenwood R5000 was produced between 1986-1996 and is an AM/FM/SSB/CW HF receiver, 108-174MHz was available as an option. The chances are that was Jason using a small hand held receiver instead of the bulky base station rig he would not have drawn attention to himself.

This should probably serve as a warning to plane spotters everywherere as listening in to the airbands is illegal in more countries than not and that just because "everybody does it" does not mean you will just get a slap on the wrist. It is a common misconception in the UK that listening to various frequencies is legal, it is not. For example until the licence for CB radio was withdrawn in UK it was illegal to listen even on those frequencies unless you had a licence and then it had to be on an approved set, so listening on a scanner or short wave radio was in breach of the law. OFCOM has said that it is unlikely anyone would be prosecuted in the UK for listening on the airbands, but would not rule it out as the law is still on the statute books. Think along the line of prosecuting Al Capone for tax evasion because the the FBI could not prove his gangsterism. If they are out to get you they will get you somehow.

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