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Smart doorbells: Data privacy risks to consider

In recent years the massive development of novel technologies has seen a new player emerge. With home deliveries becoming increasingly commonplace, many homeowners have taken to installing smart doorbells at their properties. These smart doorbells allow owners to speak to callers remotelyA controversial feature of many of these doorbells is the ability to film and store video footage, which some deploy as a deterrent against crime. 

These smart doorbells were the subject of a recent County Court claim, Fairhurst v Woodard. In this matter, the claimant brought a claim against her neighbour for harassment, nuisance and breach of the Data Protection Act 2018.   

The claim centred around three cameras installed by the defendant that captured video and audio data, one of which was a smart doorbell. The issue lay with the fact that the cameras recorded data beyond the boundaries of defendant’s property and were able to capture and record data of the claimant on her own property. These smart doorbells cameras were installed by the defendant as a security measure to prevent the theft of his vehicles.  

However, when challenged by the claimant as to the extent of their range, the court found that the defendant had repeatedly sought to mislead the claimant by informing her that the devices only captured data from his property. As the dispute escalated, the defendant later threatened to install further devices, some concealedaround his property. Ultimately the claimant left her property as a result of the dispute. 

The court found the defendant to be guilty of harassment and breaching data protection laws. For the claim of nuisance, the court found that it was bound by the authority of the Court of Appeal in Fearn and Ors v Board of Trustees of the Tate Gallery [2020] EWCA Civ 104, where it was found that overlooking one property from another does not in itself give rise to a claim for private nuisance. In addition, it was not found to be a foreseeable consequence that the devices would lead to the claimant to move out of her home. 

As a result of its findings, the claimant will be entitled to damages of up to £100,000 (the precise amount is to be assessed by the court at a subsequent hearing). Whilst it should be noted that this is a County Court judgment and is therefore not binding on future cases, it does provide important insight into what could well become grounds for many future disputes between neighbours. 

These doorbells allow owners to speak to callers remotely. A controversial feature of many of these doorbells is the ability to film and store video footage, which some deploy as a deterrent against crime. 

As domestic CCTV systems become more prevalent, owners should pay particular attention to data protection laws and ensure that they do not, inadvertently or otherwise, collect data from any properties other than their own. Potential buyers should familiarise themselves with the specifications of their devices and take steps to ensure that they do not unintentionally fall foul of data protection law. 

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This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

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