In this article I consider the recent County Court judgment in Fairhurst v Woodard in respect of a claim in harassment, nuisance and breach of the Data Protection Act 2018 arising from the Defendant’s use of CCTV and a Ring doorbell.
The lengthy judgment spans 49 pages and will be of interest to not only those who have installed a CCTV system at home but also to the estimated 100,000 owners of a Ring doorbell.
The Claimant had lived at her property (“No. 83”) since 1997 and the Defendant had lived at his property (“No. 87”) since 2003. Prior to the events that led to this claim, they had a cordial neighbour relationship.
The Defendant installed (i) a Ring doorbell next to the front door of No. 87, (ii) a floodlight with sensor and a video and audio surveillance camera with integrated motion sensor on his shed, (iii) a Ring spotlight camera pointing down the driveway and (iv) a Nest camera inside the front windowsill of No.87.
The Claimant’s case was that the Defendant has consistently failed to be open and honest with the Claimant about the cameras, has unnecessarily and unjustifiably invaded her privacy by his use of the cameras and has intimidated her when challenged about that use, and that this amounts to a nuisance, breach of the Data Protection Act 2018 and Regulations thereto and harassment of the Claimant contrary to the Protection Against Harassment Act 1997. The Defendant denied each aspect of the Claimant’s claims.
The judgment goes into great detail in respect of how the dispute arose, chronology of events, specifications of the cameras and the evidence provided by both parties and will not be repeated here. That being said, the Defendant’s conduct in this matter warrants a mention. The Defendant is alleged, amongst other things, to have falsely told the Claimant he had sent images to the police, threatened to set up further cameras (including concealed cameras) and behaved in a threatening and intimidating manner towards the Claimant.
The issues in this case can be summarised as follows:
- the field and depth of view of the cameras;
- sensitivity of the microphones;
- extent to which the devices activate automatically, or are triggered, to capture, transmit or record video images and/or associated audio;
- whether the Defendant undertook adequate consultation of the neighbours before installation, or provided adequate notices/warnings after installation; and
- how and for what purpose the Defendant stores and processes the video and/or audio files produced.
The Judgment provides an extremely useful overview of the applicable law and it is recommended that it is read in full via the above link.
The Judge found the Claimant and her witnesses to be credible and reliable and, conversely, the Defendant to be a very poor witness who gave different and contradictory accounts as well as exaggerated and untruthful evidence.
The Judge found that the Defendant had engaged in a course of conduct which caused the Claimant alarm and distress on several occasions. The Judge was satisfied that the Defendant’s behaviours crossed “the boundary between that which is unattractive and even unreasonable and that which is oppressive and unacceptable”. The Judge was satisfied that the reasonable person would regard the change in the Defendant’s behaviour over the course of a few days as alarming and amounting to harassment. The Judge was not satisfied that the Defendant met the exceptions set out in s.1(3) of the Protection Against Harassment Act 1997.
The Judge found that at certain times the Claimant, and her visitors, were subject to visual surveillance but that the court was bound by Fearn and Ors v Board of Trustees of the Tate Gallery  EWCA Civ 104 which held that mere overlooking from one property to another is not capable of giving rise to a cause of action in private nuisance. The claim for nuisance caused by light from the driveway camera was also dismissed as an irritation rather than undue interference with the use or enjoyment of her property.
The Judge found that the Defendant collected data outside the boundaries of his property and, therefore, it is for him to satisfy the court that such processing of data “is necessary for the purposes of the legitimate interests of the controller… except where such interests are overridden by the interests or fundamental rights and freedoms of the data subject” (Article 6(1)(f) UK GDPR). The Defendant submitted that his data collection and processing was necessary for the prevention of crime and the Claimant submitted that her right to privacy overrides that legitimate purpose.
In respect of the Ring doorbell video footage, the Defendant’s legitimate interest was not overridden by the Claimant’s right to privacy as any video footage is likely to be collected only incidentally as she walks past. The audio footage of the Ring doorbell is much more problematic and is addressed below.
The Defendant was unable to satisfy the Judge of his legitimate interest in respect of the driveway camera due to the range that the camera recorded (including the road leading to the private car park, the Claimant’s side gate, garden and her parking spaces). The Judge determined that the Defendant’s vehicle and parking spaces could be protected in a lesser way that did not sacrifice the privacy of the Claimant (e.g. a camera with a close focus) and, in any event, the Claimant’s right to privacy in her own home would override the Defendant’s legitimate interest on this point.
The range of audio on the devices extended well beyond the visual capabilities and could not, in the Judge’s view, be said to be reasonable for the purposes for which the devices were used. The Judge determined that the Defendant’s legitimate aim could be achieved with CCTV without audio (as is frequently and effectively used throughout the country) or a microphone with a smaller range. Therefore, the processing of the audio data by the Defendant was not lawful.
The Claimant’s claims in harassment and breach of the Data Protection Act 2018 succeeded and the claims for nuisance were dismissed. Quantum and consequential matters were determined after further submissions.
The Information Commissioners Office have produced guidance for domestic CCTV systems which can be found here.
It is advised that if you have CCTV or a video doorbell that you check the range of your device. If your device captures footage beyond the boundary of your home, then the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and Data Protection Act 2018 will apply to you, and you must comply with them.
Given the prevalent use of video doorbells and publicity of Fairhurst v Woodard, it is likely that there may be an increase in similar claims. Unfortunately, neighbour disputes are very common and need to be sensitively approached to prevent them escalating. Please see my other article ‘Nightmare Neighbours – What Actions Can Be Taken Against Them?’ here.
Members of Becket Chambers are experienced in providing advice and representation in a range of civil matters, including claims of harassment, nuisance, and breaches of data protection. If you require advice, assistance and/or representation, please contact us on 01227 786331 or email@example.com.