TVNZ's Dog Squad breached privacy

23:49, Jul 25 2012

TVNZ has been ordered to pay compensation to a man after it was found to have seriously breached his privacy by showing his car getting searched for drugs on reality show The Dog Squad.

The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) ordered the state broadcaster to pay $750 to the man, whose name is suppressed, when it was found " that the broadcast disclosed private information in a manner that was highly offensive".

During a September 19, 2011 episode the Dog Squad carried out routine checks of vehicles as they entered prison grounds near Waikeria Prison. One car took a wrong turn onto Prison Rd, but the occupants of the car were still questioned and searched by a dog handler.

After the search, the handler said to the driver: "Your body language and everything told me you looked pretty nervous, I didn't even need the dog to know that there was something in the car, or drugs had been used in that car".

He then said "You're not going to get arrested or anything. We are going to confiscate that, okay? You'll get a letter from us to say you're not allowed to come through here [prison road]."

At the time, the driver requested not to be filmed or for the footage obtained to be used on the show.

According to the man's complaint after the footage was eventually aired, the cameraman had agreed with him that the footage would not appear.

The man said his privacy had been seriously breached, and despite his face and the face of his travelling partner being pixelated, they were easily identifiable. He said he had lost the respect of his employer as well as other friends and family.

In arguing the complaint, TVNZ said that because the filming occurred in a public place, the driver did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The BSA however said a fact about someone could still remain "private" even if it related to something that occurred on a publicly accessible place.

"An individual's potential exposure to passers-by at the time the events occurred is not enough to make those events public for all purposes."

Rather, decisions about "privateness" must be assessed on the basis of a range of considerations, including, but not limited to, the place in which the event occurred, the nature of the event, the profile of the person concerned, and the way the footage was obtained.

"Although [the driver] was filmed on a public road in the sense that it was generally accessible to the public, the situation arose, [the driver] says, as the result of his taking a wrong turn, which culminated in a random vehicle inspection. The complainant did not do anything to invite or attract attention."

The BSA ruled that the broadcast "strongly suggested" the driver was in possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia.

"We consider that these circumstances, and in particular the suggestion that the complainant, an identifiable individual, was involved in illegal activities, were facts which [the driver] was likely to keep private, even from close family and friends."

TVNZ must pay $750 in compensation to the driver for breaching his privacy.