Video doorbell security – where might it go wrong?
The claimant, Mary Fairhurst, lives at Number 83 and the defendant, Jon Woodard, lives on the same side of the road at number 87. Mr Woodard had placed several cameras around his property, including a Ring doorbell (with both video and sound recording capabilities) and a camera on his garden shed overlooking the communal car park. With permission, he had also placed a camera on the wall of number 85’s property, which overlooked the shared access road leading to the communal car park. Mr Woodard continuously stated that the cameras were for security purposes. The dispute started after Mr Woodward showed his shed camera to Dr Fairhurst and boasted to her that he could view footage from it at any time via his mobile phone or smartwatch. Mr Woodard then sent Dr Fairhurst images of her taken from the camera videoing the shared access road and claimed that there was a ‘suspicious stranger’ loitering near his property. Mr Woodard also lied to Dr Fairhurst and said that the cameras were not operational when in fact they were. After more such conversations, the relationship between the two worsened.
Dr Fairhurst’s case was based on her claim that Mr Woodward consistently lied to her about the cameras, that he had invaded her privacy, and that he had intimidated her when challenged about the cameras. Dr Fairhurst claimed that this was harassment and a breach of her rights under the Data Protection Act 2018. She sought damages and an injunction (basically, that Mr Woodward remove the Ring doorbell and shed camera and forbidding the installation of further surveillance cameras.)
The court found that Mr Woodward exaggerated his evidence, some what he said was unbelieveable and that he was not truthful.
The court held that Mr Woodward’s conduct was harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.The court rejected Mr Woodward’s submission that the cameras were in place for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime, a defence under section 1(3)(a) of the 1997 Act. Mr Woodward emphasied this point but the judge did not accept it.
How your Ring doorbell and cameras might be breaking the law when it comes to personal data
Personal data is “any information relating to an identified or identifiable living individual.” Dr Fairhurst argued that the video and audio recordings of her are personal data and that Mr Woodward had unlawfully processed her data.
Mr Woodward submitted that all of his data collection and processing was necessary for the purposes of crime prevention at his property. The court then had to decide what was the appropriate balance between Dr Fairhurst’s interests in protecting her personal data and Mr Woodward’s interests in securing his home.
The court ruled that Mr Woodward had misled Dr Fairhurst about whether the cameras were working or not and about what data was captured. The court decided that Mr Woodward did not process data fairly or in a transparent manner and that he did not collected data for a specified or explicit purpose but rather sought to mislead Dr Fairhurst.
The court made specific findings regarding the use of each of the cameras. Regarding the Ring doorbell camera, the judge drew a distinction between its video recording capabilities and its audio capturing capabilities. Concerning the video, the judge held that the use of the video part of the Ring doorbell was fine — images of Dr Fairhurst were only likely to be captured incidentally as she walked past Mr Woodward’s property. However, the court found that the audio recording part of the Ring camera was able to capture audio from over 60ft away, far beyond the boundaries of Mr Woodward’s property and covering Dr Fairhurst’s property, including her front door and her driveway. The judge found that this was entirely disproportionate to the needs of protecting Mr Woodward’s property and, therefore, the audio recordings were unlawful.
The court ruled that the access lane camera capturing video and audio of the shared drive was unlawful and without justification. This camera collected data from outside of Mr Woodward’s property and there were other, less intrusive ways that Mr Woodward could ensure that his cars in the communal car park could be kept safe.
What’s legal and what’s not when it comes to using Ring doorbells and cameras
– the Ring doorbell’s video function was lawful because it protected Mr Woodward’s property and would only capture Dr Fairhurst when she walked past his house or rang the doorbell
– the Ring doorbell’s audio function was not lawful as it recorded Dr Fairhurst’s conversations on her property and this was not necessary to protect Mr Woodward’s property
– the access road camera was not lawful as it captured video and audio from outside of Mr Woodward’s property and did not show his cars
The remedy was not decided at the time of the judgment. We suspect that Dr Fairhurst will seek to have the offending cameras removed and money as damages.
How can you make sure you that are data compliant when using security devices?
If you are using or planning to use cameras to protect your home, you need to consider your neighbours’ counterbalancing rights to privacy.
Any video or audio recording capabilities should have a range not greatly exceeding the boundaries of your property. Audio is especially an issue if its captures conversations of others.
You need to be open and transparent with neighbours about the operation and scope of any audio or video recording equipment.
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