Ring Doorbell and video cameras breach neighbour’s data protection rights

Modern doorbells and video cameras are becoming more and more popular both at home and in commercial settings. We can easily record video and audio footage of people who ring on the bell and get this footage sent to our phones and saved on the cloud so we can keep an eye on the goings on outside our doors. This can be useful to help avoid crime, but this has not stopped disputes between neighbours reaching the courts because of the impact of these cameras on people’s data protection rights.

In the latest case about data protection rights and Ring Doorbells, the judge described the defendant’s actions as an “unjustifiable invasion of privacy”.

In Fairhurst v Woodward Dr Fairhurst brought an action against Mr Woodard because of how he had been using a Ring Doorbell and video cameras. The devices were put on Mr Woodard’s front door, garden shed and in a driveway which both of them used to get to the parking spaces behind their houses and gardens.

Judge Melissa Clarke at the County Court in Oxford found that the devices picked up sounds which were too far away from where the devices were positioned, meaning that Dr Fairhurst’s conversations were being picked up unnecessarily, and that Mr Woodard had been dishonest with Dr Fairhurst about how he was using the cameras and what they were able to pick up.

Clarke took Dr Fairhurst’s data protection rights extremely seriously, and decided that Mr Woodard’s actions and his use of the devices breached Dr Fairhurst’s data protection rights under the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA) and the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR) and also contributed to harassment.

These are the key take away points from the case about data protection: –

Video and audio footage contains personal data

Clarke said that the video and audio footage picked up by the devices contained Dr Fairhurst’s personal data. She could have been easily identified by what she spoke about in conversations, by her car registration number and other information picked up by the camera which could pick her out as an individual.

Mr Woodard owed her special legal duties in respect of that data. Mr Woodard could send the footage to his phone or other devices, and he was able in theory to send this footage out to neighbours or the police or whoever he liked, and this means that he is automatically legally bound to do this properly by complying with the data protection law.

Three principles of the UK GDPR were breached

Key principles of the UK GDPR were introduced to make sure businesses and individuals use other people’s data fairly and openly, and it is extremely important that businesses and individuals have processes in place to ensure this.

Principle 1 – lawfulness, fairness and transparency

Principle 1 says that personal data should be processed lawfully, fairly and transparently.

Clarke found that Mr Woodard had tried to mislead Dr Fairhurst about how and whether the devices were working and what they captured so he had breached principle 1.

Principle 2 – purpose limitation

Principle 2 says that personal data should be collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and should be processed for that purpose.

Mr Woodard tried to mislead Dr Fairhurst that the device on the shed only captured his own car and parking spaces when in fact the camera had a wider of view and captured Dr Fairhurst’s personal data as she drove in and out of the car park. Mr Woodard also said that the camera on the driveway did not capture Dr Fairhurst’s personal data at all when in fact it did. Clarke therefore said he had breached principle 2.

Principle 3 – data minimisation

Principle 3 says that personal data should be adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary when it’s processed.

The devices could capture audio footage of Dr Fairhurst’s personal data which was well beyond the range needed in order to prevent crime, which was one of Mr Woodward’s defences. Clarke took the view that crime prevention could be achieved without audio as most CCTV systems across the UK in public spaces did not even need audio footage, and if they did, they only recorded audio at a much closer range.

How can we help?

This story is another reminder of the importance of data being handled carefully by organisations.

If you have any concerns about the way your data is being used, or if you have questions about how your business uses data, please contact our commercial team.

Our specialist team has great experience in data protection law and here is how they can help:

Data Protection Solicitors >

GDPR Compliance Solicitors >

Data Protection Breach Solicitors >

Mark Chapman
Partner, Commercial
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This reflects the law and market position at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought in relation to a specific matter.

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