Questions and Answers — Interference to Public Safety from Pirate Devices

1. Why is Industry Canada so concerned about this particular interference problem?

Public safety and Search and Rescue agencies are critically dependent on their radiocommunication systems to provide services to the public. When their radio systems are interfered with, the ability to protect and serve the public is impaired, leaving human lives and property at risk.

2. What is causing the interference?

When manufacturers produce devices such as satellite television receivers, their devices must be tested to ensure that they comply with specific technical standards. The purpose of these standards is to prevent the devices from interfering with other radio systems. The manufacturers ensure compliance by enclosing their devices in specially shielded cases, which limit interfering radio signals from escaping, or leaking, out of the device.

There are a variety of non–standard attachments, generically known as AVR cards, that can be purchased for use with Bell ExpressVu satellite television receivers. These AVR cards are designed solely for the purpose of stealing satellite television programming. Combining them with a compliant satellite receiver defeats its shielding and permits radio signals to "escape" from the receiver, spread through the air, cause interference to nearby radio receivers and mask the detection of signals from emergency locator beacons.

3. How serious is this interference?

It can be very serious.

In one case, the interfering signals prevented a police dispatcher from receiving a request for help from an officer on patrol.

In another case, the interfering signals led Search and Rescue personnel to believe that an aircraft had crashed. They immediately launched a search and rescue mission that was not only costly and unnecessary, but it tied up critical limited resources that might have been needed at a real crash site elsewhere.

These "leaking" radio signals may also mask legitimate signals transmitted by distress beacons, preventing Search and Rescue personnel from detecting them.

4. How did Industry Canada establish that "AVR cards" were responsible for the interference?

Industry Canada's radio equipment testing laboratory evaluated several "off the shelf" Bell ExpressVu satellite television receivers. All receivers were found to be compliant with the appropriate technical standards and free of radio signals escaping into the environment. The standard is the Broadcast Equipment Technical Standard No. 7 (BETS–7).

The same receivers were subsequently tested after being fitted with AVR cards. The combined devices transmitted excessive radio signals, some of which fell on channels used by Police and Search and Rescue agencies.

Removal of the AVR cards subsequently eliminated the interfering radio signals.

5. What is Industry Canada doing to resolve this interference problem?

In the first phase, the Minister of Industry has made a determination that AVR cards are causing or likely to be causing interference and has taken steps to give notice of this determination to persons who are likely to be causing interference to radiocommunication.

These steps include a Gazette Notice which can be found at: http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/smt–gst.nsf/eng/sf05730.html

The next steps could include prosecution of persons who fail to comply with the Radiocommunication Regulations or the Radiocommunication Act.

6. Where does the Minister of Industry get the authority to take such action?

Section 50 of the Radiocommunication Regulations, as established by Parliament, states:

"50. (2) Where the Minister, taking into account the factors mentioned in subsection (5), determines that a model or several models of equipment cause or are likely to cause interference to radiocommunication or suffer from or are likely to suffer from adverse effects of electromagnetic energy, the Minister shall give notice of the determination to persons who are likely to be affected thereby.

(3) No person shall manufacture, import, distribute, lease, offer for sale, sell, install or use equipment in respect of which a notice referred to in subsection (2) has been given.

(5) A determination pursuant to subsection (2) shall include the consideration of the following factors:

  1. the electromagnetic environment in which the equipment is being used;
  2. the circumstances under which it is being used;
  3. the technical characteristics of the devices being interfered with or being adversely affected by electromagnetic energy; and
  4. the technical characteristics of the devices causing interference or the adverse effects of electromagnetic energy."

7. Do users of AVR cards realize that they can cause this interference?

In most cases, they probably do not. That is why Industry Canada has initiated this information campaign. Interfering with radiocommunication is an offence under section 9(1)(b) of the Radiocommunication Act.

8. Are there penalties for people who ignore the prohibition and continue selling or using AVR cards?

Yes. Section 10–(1)(d) of the Radiocommunication Act provides penalties for failure to comply with the regulation. Individuals, convicted under this section, may be liable for fines of up to $5,000 a day and/or periods of imprisonment of up to one year. Corporations who ignore the prohibition are liable for fines of up to $25,000 upon summary conviction.

The Contraventions Act is also applicable in some provinces which permits Industry Canada Inspectors to issue tickets or Summons to Appear in Court.

Moreover, any material related to the offence may be seized and held as evidence until the case has been heard in court. This includes all the hardware associated with the DTH satellite receiving system. Forfeiture could also be ordered.

9. I have heard of black market devices being used to pick up satellite DTH signals. Are these the same thing?

Black market decoders are designed to circumvent the DTH signal scrambling (encryption) systems so that pay–TV or other channels can be viewed without paying the required subscription fee to the lawful distributor. AVR cards are one of the many black market devices currently available.

10. What is the government's position on the use of black market satellite television decoders?

The Government's position is that manufacturing, importing, distributing, leasing, selling, installing, modifying or possessing devices designed to circumvent DTH encryption systems is illegal.

11. What could happen to me if I own or use one of these devices?

Federal Inspectors have the authority to take the necessary steps to resolve the interference, including search and seizure of DTH equipment. Should that be required, prosecution could result in fines and/or imprisonment as well as forfeiture of the DTH equipment. (See Question 8.)

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