Private Investigators – item on computer software piracy – privacy – identification
(1) Privacy – no identification – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
An episode of Private Investigators, a series about the activities of private investigators in New Zealand, was broadcast on TV One at 7.30pm on 27 June 2000.
PW, through her lawyer, complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(c) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 that the broadcast had breached her privacy. The programme had included a segment about pirated computer games. Footage was broadcast which showed a private investigator recovering software from a house occupied by PW. PW’s lawyer explained that she had been recently released from the police witness protection scheme, and had expressed to the programme makers her wish not to be identified due to her background. Her lawyer considered that TVNZ had not taken her concerns seriously and had failed to prevent her identification.
In its response to the complaint, Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, submitted that PW had not been identified by the broadcast, and that accordingly, her privacy had not been breached.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.
An episode of Private Investigators was broadcast on TV One at 7.30pm on 27 June 2000. Private Investigators is a series in the "reality" genre about the activities of private investigators in New Zealand.
PW, through her lawyer, complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(c) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 that the broadcast had breached her privacy.
The programme had included a segment about pirated computer games. Footage was broadcast which showed a private investigator recovering software from a house occupied by PW. Two visits were seen to be made to the house during the investigation and recovery.
PW’s lawyer explained that she had been released recently from the police witness protection scheme, and had expressed to the programme makers her wish not to be identified due to that background. PW’s lawyer considered that she had been identified in the following ways:
- place of residence and footage of the street outside was shown
- voice was broadcast
- mother was filmed outside her residence.
PW’s lawyer considered that TVNZ had not taken her concerns seriously and had failed to prevent her identification.
In its response to the complaint, TVNZ submitted that PW had not been identified. It made two initial points. First, it maintained that PW knew she was being filmed on the second occasion when private investigators had visited her house, and had offered no objection. TVNZ conceded that PW had not been aware of the filming on the first visit to the house, but that "in that case there [were] no shots that could possibly be at issue on the question of identity". Secondly, TVNZ contended that neither the cameraman nor the programme’s production company had been made aware that PW had been part of a police witness protection scheme. It also maintained that this could "only be of relevance if the Authority finds that she [was] identifiable".
TVNZ then explained why it did not consider that PW had been identified. First, it disagreed that she was identifiable by her voice, as only a few words had been spoken by her, and it maintained that her voice was not particularly distinctive. Next TVNZ observed that the cameraman had been unaware that PW’s mother had any connection to the story being filmed. In any event, TVNZ did not believe that identifying PW’s mother would be sufficient to identify PW:
All it says… is that [PW’s] mother happened to pass down the street as a private investigator recovered from a house in that street what were apparently "pirated" discs.
Thirdly, TVNZ disagreed that the street shots it used had identified any particular street in a large residential suburb, or even which part of that suburb had been involved. It submitted that the broad street shots used were generic in nature and typical of any number of streets in the area.
TVNZ also contended that it was unlikely that even those closest to PW would identify her from the information given in the programme:
The three points (voice, mother, street) could only be put together by those who already knew where she was living and who were aware already that either she was involved with suspect software or had had some equipment and discs removed from her house.
TVNZ then considered the application of Privacy Principle (v) to the facts. That principle reads:
The protection of privacy includes the protection against disclosure by the broadcaster, without consent, of the name and/or address and/or telephone number of an identifiable person. The principle does not apply to details which are public information, or to news and current affairs reporting, and is subject to the public interest defence in principle (vi).
TVNZ submitted that Privacy Principle (v) had not been breached, as there was no disclosure of PW’s name address or telephone number and she was not an identifiable person in the context of the item.
When it considers complaints about privacy, the Authority’s first task is to consider whether the person whose privacy is allegedly breached is identified by the broadcast. On this occasion, the Authority does not consider that the complainant was identified. Her face was pixellated. The Authority accepts TVNZ’s reasoning as to why she was not identifiable by her voice, or by the footage shown of her mother and the street outside her house. Accordingly, it declines to uphold PW’s privacy complaint.
For the reasons given, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
5 October 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. PW’s Formal Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 12 July 2000
2. Television New Zealand Ltd’s Response to the Authority – 10 August 2000