18 October, 2021
There are inevitably various matters in which neighbours can have disputes about. The most recent case of Fairhurst v Woodard demonstrates that the installation of a smart doorbell camera at your home could potentially breach data protection laws.
In this case, the County Court at Oxford ruled that a man's use of security cameras on his house breached the Data Protection Act and GDPR in respect of his neighbour. The judge stated that the neighbour, Dr Fairhurst is "entitled to compensation and orders preventing him (the defendant) from continuing to breach her rights in a similar manner in the future".
This case concerned, Dr Fairhurst (the claimant), who claimed that her neighbour's smart doorbell camera infringed her privacy, as the location of the devices meant that she was under constant surveillance as these captured images, videos, and audio recordings of her.
The smart doorbell device is connected to the owner's smart phone by the internet. It notifies them when a visitor arrives at the door. The device allows the owner to see and talk to the visitors at the door when they are not home, through the camera and microphone technology.
The defendant argued that the installation of the device was in good faith and merely to protect his car from being stolen. Dr Fairhurst claimed that the house had two doors, and the access road to where the car was parked was a far distance away, and she was under continuous visual surveillance.
The judge ruled that Mr Woodard violated the provisions of the 2018 Data Protection Act and the General Data Protection Regulation. In her ruling, Dr Fairhurst's image and audio files captured on the device were classified as her personal data, although Mr Woodard said it could not be processed in a "fair or transparent way."
The defendant, Mr Woodard, is likely to have to pay Dr Mary Fairhurst damages as a result of the ruling that the use of a camera violates data protection law and is equivalent to harassment. The amount of those damages is to be determined at a later date. They could range from a few hundred pounds to many thousands of pounds. Much will depend on the distress caused by the breach and its effects on Dr Fairhurst.
The ruling is understood to be the first in the UK and could set precedent for thousands of owners of the 'ring smart' devices.
The Information Commissioners Office has offered guidance on the use of CCTV cameras in a domestic context for some time. The guidance notes that if a homeowner has a surveillance system that captures images of people outside the boundary of the private domestic property, e.g.) a neighbour's home or a public footpath, then the provisions of the UK GDPR and DPA will apply.
Therefore, considering this recent judgement was made in favour of the claimant, there are a series of questions that should be considered by someone before installing a CCTV system. Some examples are:
Given the publicity surrounding the judgment in Fairhurst v Woodard it would seem likely that other such claims will follow, and doorbell cameras are likely to be a factor of why neighbours can have a tendency to fall out. Of course, any future claims will have to be considered on a case-by-case basis, and the decision of whether any data protection laws have been breached and if any compensation can be claimed will depend on the circumstances and facts of each individual case.
At Forbes Solicitors we consider claims for sending out sensitive data to the wrong person, such as medical records, financial information or other data considered to be sensitive, which could cause damage to your reputation or affect your safety.
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