Judge rules on doorbell privacy row

Scales of justice above law courts

A ruling on the unjustifiable invasion of privacy could have implications for home security devices across the country.

As an audio-visual technician, Jon Woodard knew what he was doing when he installed a Ring doorbell and cameras as a security measure to protect his property in Thame, Oxfordshire.

He said the device was installed to deter burglars, claiming that a shed camera had been stolen on 25th April 2019, when ‘a gang of masked persons in balaclavas’ attempted to steal his Audi.

Mr Woodward later invited his neighbour to come into his home, when she said he showed off his home security system.

Dr Fairhurst said she was “alarmed and appalled” on discovering that the camera was mounted on his shed. Footage from the camera system could be viewed on his mobile phone.

A number of disputes arose between the neighbours as a result of images from the camera and its associated floodlight, which was positioned in a way that most of Dr Fairhurst’s garden, driveway and parking space were recorded, along with audio data.

Dr Fairhurst moved out of her home on 29th April 2019 because of the escalating row, accusing Mr Woodward of being ‘focussed on harassing her’. Having looked at the Information Commissioner’s website, she reported her concerns to the police.

In Fairhurst v Woodward, Judge Melissa Clarke upheld Dr Fairhurst’s claims, and described the audio data as a breach of UK Data Protection Act and UK GDPR. She said it was “even more problematic and detrimental than video data”, because people would not be aware that the device was there or that audio was being recorded. Ring security systems are able to record sound up to 40 metres away.

Online retailer Amazon makes the devices and said that users of the system must “respect their neighbours’ privacy and comply with any applicable laws when using their Ring devices.” It said that features were in places that ensured privacy and that security and user control were ‘front and centre’. Privacy zones could be set to block off areas that were ‘off-limits’ so that users could customise the device to detect motion, and that audio could be turned off.

However, the judge pointed out that: “Even if an activation zone is disabled so that the camera does not activate to film by movement in that area, activation by movement in one of the other non-disabled activation zones will cause the camera to film across the whole field of view”.

Most users of home security and surveillance systems have no problems with neighbours or passers-by. Indeed, many feel more secure in the knowledge that activity outside their homes is being monitored and agree that it is a good burglar deterrent. The police also use home surveillance footage in their work.