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Ofcom denies privacy to drunk-dial-and-drive trucker

Complaint backfires on thirsty pantechniconist

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The BBC was justified in broadcasting the unblurred face of a trucker who was pulled for being on the phone, and subsequently arrested for being drunk at the wheel, despite his right to privacy, Ofcom has ruled.

The trucker alleges that an episode of Motorway Cops violated his privacy in showing him being pulled, arrested, and led to a cell, despite his request that the footage not be used. Ofcom agrees that broadcast of the footage inside the police station was an invasion of privacy, but that it was justified by the public interest.

The show didn't name the trucker, but it did broadcast footage of him talking on a mobile phone while driving a 44-ton truck. When an unmarked police vehicle tried to get him to pull over he lifted his other hand off the wheel to give a cheery thumbs up. Having got him to stop, police subsequently found an open can of lager in the truck's cab.

Ofcom ruled that the footage taken while driving, and then failing the breathalyzer test (the trucker was found to be almost double the legal limit), were not an invasion of privacy as they happened in a public place. But once the action moves to the cop shop arrestees are entitled to expect some privacy, and while the truck driver didn't explicitly ask for the filming to be stopped he was clearly unhappy with it.

Ofcom interpreted that to mean he would have liked it to stop, and thus in normal circumstances the filming would have to have stopped or at least the footage not be broadcast. But Ofcom also ruled that given the offence, and the fact that earlier footage showed it being committed, the public-interest argument outweighed any expectation of privacy.

The driver was fined £115 and banned from driving for 18 months, Ofcom says. He has argued that repeats of the programme would put his return to work at risk. Given he's not named in the show we can't help feeling he's not done himself any favours in making the complaint, should prospective employers be doing a Google search or similar, as it has resulted in him being named in Ofcom's latest enforcement bulletin (PDF, lots of details but quite dull to read).

Ofcom has also been investigating a claim by one "Mrs E" who was shocked to see her younger self on screen. She appeared in the audience of a TV show about parents accused of child abuse 20 years ago, and has suddenly seen the footage reused, much to the surprise of friends and colleagues who recognised her and started questions about what prompted her to attend.

Ofcom ruled that having agreed to be in the show in 1989 she gave up all rights to use of the footage thereafter, including subsequent repeats.

It would seem that in fact the "right to be forgotten" may have disappeared longer ago in some cases than people think. Unless we all change identities every now and then we may just have to get used to it. ®

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