The BBC has threatened to notify the boss of anyone who leaves content which it considers “offensive” on any of its websites.
The extraordinary threat is buried in the middle of a 28-page Privacy and Cookies Policy. All users are bound by this policy, though in reality the vast majority are unaware of it.
The policy makes explicit that the BBC is willing to “use your personal information to stop” behaviour which it deems “disruptive”, and to punish users for posting content it thinks is “offensive, inappropriate or objectionable”:
Heat Street has asked the BBC’s headquaters in London to further define these terms, which seem sufficiently broad as to include almost anything to which the Corporation objects.
If officials decide a user’s actions are sufficiently offensive that they could be against the law, they say they will “use your personal information to inform relevant third parties such as your employer, school email/internet provider or law enforcement agencies about the content and your behaviour”.
It seems reasonable that the BBC should be allowed to report potential criminals to the police.
It is less clear what the aim of calling employers or schools could be, other than to get people in trouble without actually having to prove it by interacting with the criminal justice system.
The phrases “reasonably believes” and “may be in breach” also give significant scope for the BBC to act in cases which are not, ultimately, illegal.
This sort of wording is increasingly common in online privacy policies, and many similar examples can be found elsewhere. The BBC’s policy is understood to have been included in previous documents, but only gained wide attention this week.
Nonetheless, the threat has worrying connotations coming from a large and prominent publicly-funded body which levies a tax from most of the population and is by far the UK’s most prominent news source.
The BBC’s revenue comes mainly from the Television Licence Fee, which generates a tax free sum of almost £4 billion (about $5.2 billion) per year.
A BBC spokesman told Heat Street: “As the policy has stated for some time, where we believe that someone has posted something that may breach the law, we reserve the right to inform the relevant authorities – it’s the responsible thing to do, just like most other organisations’ policies allow them to share information.”