Freesat and full post codes
The request was partially successful.
Dear Sir or Madam,
I write concerning the entering of whole post codes into Freesat receivers. This has to be done before the receiver will display programmes. Freesat is a joint venture between yourselves and ITV.
The reason for this demand is not explained in the FAQ section on the Freesat web site, but after some research I gather that the claimed purpose of this is to localise the channels displayed in the EPG.
The third data protection principle is that information is, "adequate, relevant and not excessive".
It is not clear that BBC/Freesat has complied with this principle. The first half of a post code is more than sufficient to localise the channels displayed on the EPG, as far as I can see. Gathering more information is excessive and is a means of possibly leaking detailed information on viewing habits to the BBC/Freesat.
Given that these receivers have a return path to the BBC/Freesat (though this is claimed not to be in use at the moment) and localising could be done with just the first part of the post code, what is the real reason for demanding this personal information? Is it perhaps something to do with collecting the BBC tax? A full post code makes identifying living individuals easy, the first half of the post code does not carry this risk.
If you still claim that the reason for demanding the full post code is that it is necessary to localise channels in the EPG please provide the following information:
1) an explanation of the process by which your joint venture analysed collecting all or part of the post code and the reasons they concluded demanding the whole thing was the right approach.
2) a list of those locations where the first half of the post code would be insufficient to localise programmes in the EPG.
Please note that responses should be in the same format as this was sent to you. Plain text. Proprietary formats will be rejected.
Dear Mr Hansen,
Thank you for your request for information under the Freedom of
Information Act 2000, which was received on 29 May 2008. We shall deal
with your request as promptly as possible and, at the latest, within 20
working days. If you have any queries about your request please contact
us at the address below.
The reference number for your request is RFI20080575.
The Information Policy and Compliance Team
BBC Freedom of Information
Room 2252, BBC White City
201 Wood Lane
London W12 7TS, UK
Email: [BBC request email]
Tel: 020 8008 2883
Fax: 020 8008 2398
Dear Mr Hansen
Please find below the response to your request for information,
BBC Information Policy and Compliance
Room 2252, 2nd Floor, White City
201 Wood Lane
London W12 7TS, UK
Email: mailto:[BBC request email]
Tel: 020 8008 2883
Fax: 020 8008 2398
Email: [FOI #648 email]
12th June 2008
Dear Mr Hansen
Freedom of information request - RFI20080575
Thank you for your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000
("the Act") received by email and dated 29th May 2008, in which you ask
about the entering of full postcodes into Freesat receivers at the point
Freesat is a not-for-profit company jointly owned by the BBC and ITV.
Therefore Freesat's information is not covered by the Act. However, any
information held either by the BBC, or by Freesat on behalf of the BBC,
is covered by the Act.
In response to your points about Data Protection, the BBC does not
consider that postcodes normally constitute personal data, as it is not
possible to identify individuals from this information, only a group of
households. In any case, the postcode is only used during the
installation process, and there are no APIs (Application Programming
Interfaces) which allow this information to be collected via a return
path. Therefore neither the BBC nor Freesat hold this information, and
the Data Protection Act is not relevant.
Freesat's policy is not to collect or hold such information. Any future
change to this policy would be explained to viewers, allowing them to
opt out if they so chose.
However, I explain below why the full postcode is requested.
As you suggested, the Freesat receiver asks for a postcode so that the
correct regional variation of certain channels can be presented to the
user via the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG). Freesat is reviewing how
this process can best be explained on its website.
Whilst the full postcode is requested upon installation, you are right
that this level of detail is not required in order to establish a
viewer's correct regional service. The resolution to which regional
variations are allocated is done at the postcode Sector level, which is
everything except the last two letters. An example where the Sector
information is required rather than just the District information (the
first half of the postcode) is:
- BD23 3xx delivers regional BBC and ITV services from Leeds;
- BD23 4xx delivers regional BBC and ITV services from Manchester;
- BD23 5xx delivers regional BBC and ITV services from Leeds.
We consider that it is much easier for customers to understand the
process if full postcodes are requested, even though not all of the
information is used, rather than having to explain the various
district/sector elements which might be required in various cases.
I trust that this response addresses any concerns you may have on the
If you are not satisfied with this response you have the right to an
internal review by a BBC senior manager or legal adviser. Please contact
us explaining what you would like us to review and including your
reference number. If you are not satisfied with the internal review, you
can appeal to the Information Commissioner. The contact details are:
Information Commissioner's Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow,
Cheshire, SK9 5AF, telephone 01625 545 700 or see http://www.ico.gov.uk/
Dear Mr Gutteridge,
Thank you for your recent reply, which contained much of the information I was after. However, there are a few points which you may like to consider and a question at the end.
Post codes are not uniform in the level of detail they reveal. The number of buildings which a full post code identifies varies. It may be say 30 buildings, on the other hand it may be one building. Open a postcode directory at any page and this should be easy to confirm. Post codes for individual buildings have no particular relationship with the size of the building, a lodge may have its own code. Thus it is not possible to accurately assert that a full postcode only indicates a group of houses.
I note your statement that there is currently nothing to collect this information from the box and your indication that were this to be changed this would be explained to viewers. How this is to be done would be interesting, presumably a notice on rebooting. These are programmable boxes which can be updated remotely and also have the equipment for a two way link back to mother, though this is apparently not in use yet. Thus they are somewhat different in data protection terms to a Freeview box and this needs to be remembered in decisions on what is done with them.
Any such change should involve people opting-in, not opting-out as you stated. Inertia marketing is not something the BBC should participate in. The wording of the notice regarding such a change should also be agreed with those who understand privacy, which is unlikely to be the sort of people who advocate opting-out.
I note your statement that the full post code is not required for the claimed function of localising channels. People might wish to characterise your statement about viewers' understanding as being somewhat derogatory towards viewers, others might characterise it as realistic. It would have been the work of a few moments to tell viewers that they only need to enter the number in the second part of the post code, but if they wish to enter the whole thing they can do so and it will be discarded.
The choice not to adopt this approach is interesting, I note that you did not supply the analysis of this decision which I requested. The choice which has been made by the BBC/Freesat means more memory is used in the box. There are better things to do with relatively scarce memory than store redundant data. This makes me doubtful about the real reasons for the choice.
You are wrong to claim that the full post code is requested. At least on my box (and there are only three designs of box at the moment, though two designs of box from the same manufacturer are branded under three names each) the full post code is not requested but rather it is required. Without a full post code the box refuses to do anything else. It is not possible to leave out the last two letters. The box appears to have a (memory intensive) list of every post code the post office recognises inside the box, as it rejects last letter combinations which are not in a directory.
The workings of these boxes has been highly specified by the BBC/Freesat. I find it difficult to believe that the BBC did not have a hand in the boxes demanding full post codes before they do anything. That leads to my question. Is this behaviour deliberate or accidental?
I look forward to your reply.
Dear Mr Hansen,
Thank you for your message in reply to our response to your FOI request.
You raise some some interesting points; however, these are not requests
for recorded information under the FOI Act. Therefore the best place to
address these comments is to Freesat themselves, whom you can contact at:
Freesat, PO Box 6296, London W1A 3FF.
With respect to your final question, as I said before, the postcode is
required so that the correct regional variations can be displayed in the
EPG, and the FULL postcode is asked for simply because we believe it makes
the request easier to understand. This is deliberate. I reiterate though,
that this data is not collected or processed by anyone.
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