The BBC respects privacy and does not infringe it without good reason, wherever in the world it is operating.  The Human Rights Act 1998 gives protection to the privacy of individuals, and private information about them, but balances that with a broadcaster's right to freedom of expression.  In regulation, the Ofcom Broadcasting Code states "Any infringement of privacy in programmes, or in connection with obtaining material included in programmes, must be warranted." (Rule 8.1, Ofcom Broadcasting Code)

(See Section 18 The Law: 18.5)

Meeting these ethical, regulatory and legal obligations in our output requires consideration of the balance between privacy and our right to broadcast information in the public interest.  We must be able to demonstrate why an infringement of privacy is justified.

(See Section 7 Privacy: 7.1 - The Public Interest)

An infringement is considered in two stages, requiring justifications for both the gathering and the broadcasting of material where there is a legitimate expectation of privacy.


Legitimate Expectations of Privacy

An individual's legitimate expectation of privacy is qualified by location and the nature of the information and behaviour, and the extent to which the information is already in the public domain.  People in the public eye may, in some circumstances, have a lower legitimate expectation of privacy.

Location: People in public places or in semi-public places cannot expect the same degree of privacy as in their own homes or other sensitive locations.  (A semi-public place is somewhere which, though private property, gives the public general access, such as an airport, station or shopping mall.)

However, location must be considered in conjunction with the activity.  There may be circumstances where people can reasonably expect privacy even in a public or semi-public space, particularly when the activity or information being revealed is inherently private.  For example, there may be a greater expectation of privacy when someone is in a public or semi-public place but receiving medical treatment. 

There may also be occasions when someone in a location not usually open to the public is engaged in an activity where they have a low expectation of privacy, for example a sales pitch or giving public information.  We do not, though, normally reveal information which discloses the precise location of a person's home or family without their consent, unless it is editorially justified.

Behaviour: There is less entitlement to privacy where an individual's behaviour is criminal or seriously anti-social. 

The Public Interest

Private behaviour, information, correspondence and conversation should not be brought into the public domain unless there is a public interest that outweighs the expectation of privacy.  There is no single definition of public interest.  It includes but is not confined to:

  • exposing or detecting crime
  • exposing significantly anti-social behaviour
  • exposing corruption or injustice
  • disclosing significant incompetence or negligence
  • protecting people's health and safety
  • preventing people from being misled by some statement or action of an individual or organisation
  • disclosing information that assists people to better comprehend or make decisions on matters of public importance.

There is also a public interest in freedom of expression itself. 

When considering what is in the public interest we also need to take account of information already in the public domain or about to become available to the public. 

When using the public interest to justify an intrusion, consideration should be given to proportionality; the greater the intrusion, the greater the public interest required to justify it.

Data Protection

The Data Protection Act protects individuals' privacy by regulating how personal information is collected, used and retained.  The BBC's obligations under the Act are reflected, as appropriate, in this section of the Editorial Guidelines and other guidelines as notified by the BBC (including applicable data security guidelines and the Data Protection Handbook).

(See Section 18 The Law: 18.11)

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