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The latest ding-dong in the battle on domestic surveillance

On 12 October 2021 judgment was handed down by Judge Melissa Clarke in relation to a ding-dong over doorbells. Fairhurst v Woodard [2021] 10 WLUK 151 highlights the increasing modern-age desire for domestic surveillance. But is this taking the ‘nosy neighbour’ persona too far?

The case concerned a claim by Dr Fairhurst about the installation and use of several surveillance cameras and a “Ring” doorbell, by her neighbour Mr Woodard, which could be viewed at any time via an app on Mr Woodard’s mobile phone.

Dr Fairhurst claimed that Mr Woodard failed to inform her of these cameras, unjustifiably intruded on her privacy through the use of the cameras, and demonstrated hostility towards her when questioned about the domestic surveillance. The latter claim was found to be a course of conduct amounting to harassment contrary to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Whilst Mr Woodard argued that the installation of the surveillance devices was necessary to protect his property following the attempted theft of his car, the Court felt that Mr Woodard had taken this a step too far. Judge Melissa Clarke raised particular concern over the fact that the domestic surveillance equipment could record conversations, and commented that this was more concerning than the video data, particularly given that Dr Fairhurst and those associated with her were not aware of the surveillance.

Between the shed camera, the driveway camera, and the “Ring” doorbell, it was found that Mr Woodard could view footage from, among other places, Dr Fairhurst’s car parking spaces, the driveway which Dr Fairhurst partially owned, Dr Fairhurst’s front door, Dr Fairhurst‘s side wall and gate, and some of Dr Fairhurst’s garden itself. Further, and arguably more alarmingly, the audio function of the cameras and “Ring” doorbell could capture conversations in all of these locations, none of which were within Mr Woodard’s property.

The Court found that Mr Woodard had breached both the UK Data Protection Act 2018, and UK General Data Protection Regulation 2016. The videos and conversations of Dr Fairhurst constituted personal data, and while it may appear to be a convenient feature of modern surveillance technology, the fact that the data could be transmitted to Mr Woodard’s mobile phone to view at his convenience meant that it amounted to processing of personal data.

Therefore while the modernisation of doorbells and domestic surveillance may seem an attractive prospect packaged with the added convenience of being able to view it on a mobile device, the legal consequences of doing so should be borne in mind.

The ICO provides guidance on the use of domestic surveillance systems, namely that if such a system records images of people beyond the boundary of the homeowner’s domestic property, the UK GDPR and DPA are applicable. Whilst this is only a County Court decision and therefore not binding, it may be prudent to add audio recordings to this list too.

For more information on this article, please contact our Jessica Tallon or Emily Woof in our Property Litigation team.

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