A recent court case concerning residential property audio and video surveillance systems has alerted us to how these smart devices such as ‘the Ring’ are causing a serious debate within law and the media, and I think it’s a matter that you need to be aware of too!
Camera installations in properties are widely used to increase the safety of our properties and us as residents, or if a management agent, then your leaseholders. These sophisticated devices are becoming more complex which is increasing the public’s concern about their safety and privacy however.
Remember, our job is to give you all the legal information you need, whether it’s drafting a lease, help with privacy laws, collecting service charges or resolving disputes, this is what we do!
DATA PROTECTION AND HOME VIDEO SECURITY BREACHES
With their popularity increasing, a lot of property managers are wondering if they should get a system like this installed in their blocks.
This article will go over everything you need to know about the dangers of installing surveillance systems, and how you can prevent a court case like the Fairhurst v Woodard one.
THE CASE OF FAIRHURST AND WOODARD
The Fairhurst vs Woodard case is a recent example of how cases involving surveillance systems are treated in the courts. The Claimant, Dr Fairhurst, was saying that she was being harassed and the systems installed had breached her GDPR and DPA. The Defendant, Mr Woodard, had put up several cameras around his property in a way to “protect his property and act as a deterrent against criminals”. Fair enough, some would say, but what about the rights of the neighbour?
The Claimant feared that the surveillance systems were picking up her movements and when she wanted to discuss the cameras with Mr Woodard, he misled her about the status of the cameras and intimated her to stop pushing the conversation about them.
In the public court documents, the judgment followed the 2-day trial of the Claimant Dr Fairhurst’s claim in harassment, nuisance and breach of the Data Protection Act 2018 arising from the Defendant Mr Woodard’s use of several security cameras and lights at and around his property in town of Thame in Oxfordshire.
THE FACTS OF THE CASE FAIRHURST AND WOODARD
Both parties in this court case are neighbours, their properties both back onto a large private car park and have access to a shared driveway leading them into this car park.
The Defendant, Mr Woodard, installed a video and audio surveillance camera which had an integrated motion sensor that triggered a spotlight. He also installed a floodlight with a sensor, doorbell, video and audio system on his front door and a security camera on his windowsill. They were pointed in the direction of the car park, and also at the street.
In this case the Claimant, Dr Fairhurst, stated that when she challenged Mr Woodard about the cameras she was met with intimidation and harassment from him. Mr Woodard denied the claims she was making and insisted that the cameras were needed for protection after a ‘gang’ attempted to steal his car and he was concerned about suspicious activity.
The Claimant kept trying to get in touch with Mr Woodard about the cameras, she wanted to know more about how her privacy was being affected and what he was doing with the footage that was being collected. The defendant failed to discuss this on numerous occasions telling her that the cameras were ‘dummy cameras’ and she had nothing to worry about.
On different occasions Mr Woodard responded to Dr Fairhurst’s worries with temper and aggression stating that “if she did not like his cameras she could ‘go and live down the drain’ and that he was going to install cameras ‘good enough to see the colour of her eyes’.
THE DECISION OF THE CASE
The judge decided that Mr Woodard, who had installed security equipment in order to protect his cars, and had been dishonest with neighbours (esp. Dr Fairhurst) about the existence and scope of these devices, had engaged in both harassment and a breach of data protection laws, although not of nuisance.
Dr Fairhurst’s claim of harassment was successful. The court ruled that Mr Woodard did cause her distress with his threatening behaviour and constant dishonesty about the status of the cameras.
The nuisance claim however failed as the court ruled that the use of floodlights was not causing a disruption as the houses are located in a town. Also, the court did not see an issue with the cameras looking onto her property.
The images and audio documents that were shared by Mr Woodard made him a data controller and therefore had to follow the principles set out by the UK data protection law. The court believed that the defendant had a truthful reason that he wanted to use the cameras to prevent crime in that area, but because of his behaviour and misinformation regarding the cameras. The court found that Dr Fairhurst was entitled to compensation and Mr Woodard had to remove the cameras and was restricted from putting them up in the future.
WHY IT’S GOOD TO HAVE SECURITY CAMERAS IN A RESIDENTIAL HOME
Having cameras installed in private residency can keep the residence and the property safe. The camera is either always recording or will start to record as soon as movement is detected within their range. This means that if a crime or suspicious activity happens around the property, the camera will record it meaning that the police will have an easier job identifying criminals.
The cameras can also help police solve crimes and provide them with material evidence for the court. However, the cameras can also work to prevent crimes – a pretty good deterrent and insurers ask these questions too. Locations which had some form of CCTV had around 13% less crime compared to places without. Studies have shown that having a smart camera system installed around a property can actually reduce criminals from breaking in by 50%.
WHY SECURITY DEVICES MIGHT BREACH PRIVACY LAWS
There are so many different types of security cameras available on the market nowadays helping protect properties and the surrounding areas from criminal activities. Unfortunately, many owners of these security systems aren’t aware of their responsibilities when installing and using them.
If your surveillance system is set up and only captures things inside your property boundaries then you don’t necessarily need to worry about the data protection laws.
There is a high chance that the CCTV will capture images that go outside the property boundary like public streets or footpaths. This is not breaking the law, but you will then be the data controller and you’ll have to follow the legal obligations under the data protection laws.
If any images are captured then there needs to be a good reason for it and if anything is done with the image, you need to be able to show that you are complying with the data protection laws, else you will be breaching the rights of the people who you have pictures of. See where it gets messy, especially in blocks of flats?
WHAT PROPERTY MANAGERS AND LANDLORDS HAVE TO THINK ABOUT WHEN USING SECURITY CAMERAS
All residents that will be impacted by the cameras need to be informed in some way that they are being recorded and watched by the surveillance camera. There have been many reports to the police from residents who believe that these cameras are put in place to spy on them and are therefore breaching their privacy rights.
As a property manager you need to think about where you can place the CCTV cameras so that it won’t intrude into your residents’ privacy and that any cameras are simply there for security and protection of crime. You also need to be aware that you are a data controller if the camera captures any images outside the property boundaries and if you are managing them.
Those who will be affected by the installation of a surveillance camera need to be informed. There’s much debate over the importance of these cameras so be prepared to listen to what people have concerns about and be transparent and honest about why you feel it necessary for cameras and what they are put in place for, but more than that, what you are planning on doing with anything that’s captured by the cameras.
- How can you respect the privacy of others? Think about how having CCTV installed could impact people’s right to privacy.
- Do you need audio? Not all cameras come with a built-in audio recording system. Is this something you need in your situation? If not, then don’t include it.
- Write out a statement as to why you feel the need for CCTV and how you are trying your best to respect the privacy of others.
- Put up signs to tell people that the CCTV has been put up and then register with the ICO (Information Commissioner’s office).
- If you have any CCTV footage that you don’t need then don’t hold onto it. Especially if it has other people in the footage. When you do have footage, make sure it is safe and secure and that no one can get access to it. You are in charge of what happens with the footage.
HOW TO INSTALL CCTV RESPONSIBLY
If you want to use CCTV then think about what areas need protection. Speak to the local police about what they advise you to do in order to keep your residential properties safe. There could be a more privacy friendly and effective way to prevent crime. Evidence what is said in that conversation.
Think about whether or not you need a camera that records the images for you, or if having a live stream is good enough. And always think about what the most privacy-friendly way to set up a system is so you don’t have to worry about dealing with the data protection laws.
Remember to tell residents of a property if CCTV is being installed. They have a legal right to know when a camera is watching them, and if they are being lied to about it then things could get messy in court.
There’s always something to think about that isn’t there, and as landlords or property managers we want to look after you from a legal angle.
If you need any further help or advice then please get in touch, we’re a very approachable team at LMP Law!