back to article Judge in UK rules Amazon Ring doorbell audio recordings breach data protection laws

A judge in England has ruled that an Amazon Ring doorbell's functions broke the Data Protection Act after a neighbour dispute, over claims of a gang of armed robbers trying to steal an Audi, ended up in court. Dr Mary Fairhurst took her neighbour Jon Woodard to court after alleging that his mass of CCTV cameras, including an …

  1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Obviously guilty

    " He gave his side of the story in an interview with the Daily Mail."

    1. Youngone Silver badge

      Re: Obviously guilty

      I had a quick peek at that Daily Mail piece and was struck by this bit:

      A female doctor could be paid more than £100,000...

      Good lord! A female doctor? Whatever next? Letting ladies vote?

      Gods the Mail is weird.

      1. BrownishMonstr

        Re: Obviously guilty

        Keyword: could

        But I know what they are trying to do.

  2. Gordon 10

    Publish in the Heil - go directly to jail.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Perhaps if he'd recorded it....

    HHJ Clarke went on to describe Woodard as "stuck in a web of his own lies" as he tried to explain all of this in court, adding later that she found his evidence "entirely unbelievable" unless supported by others.

  4. martinusher Silver badge

    Surely they have to go shopping?

    One standout feature about visiting the UK over the last 20 years or so has been the sheer number of CCTV cameras. Everywhere you go there's one or more looking at you -- and that's just on the street. Other countries are catching up with newer designs being less obtrusive but still the idea that you could go anywhere in the UK and somehow expect not to be on camera feels somewhat cute. Dated, even. Its beyond naive to think that if Big Brother is watching you then they wouldn't also be listening -- of course they are, or at least they could be, especially with modern systems that pick up desired sounds out of a field of background noise (Alexa, for example).

    1. Joe W Silver badge

      Re: Surely they have to go shopping?

      And that's a good thing? And that's justification for neighbours to film the communal car park and record every movement?

      I think not. Nor should we accept being under surveillance all the time, nor should we invite such devices into our homes, nor should we fall slave to that trend. Maybe I'm showing my age, but the trend to ever more control over basically everything ruins a lot. As kids we biked (alone) to friends' houses across town, and were out in the woods, climbing trees, building huts, constructing (dangerous) bike jumps, doing all sorts of stuff. We were home at dinner time. Now we are tracking our kids and pets, even our spouses, and we ourselves are tracked by the state and our neighbours, on- and offline.

      Hell, digging out old chat logs of politicians when they were young (teenagers) to show they are unfit for office is just the newest thing. Good grief, Germany had a minister of foreign afffairs a decade or two ago that was heavily involved in the protests in the late 60s / early 70s, even throwing cobble stones at the police. When he came into office, newspapers dug out that story. The people in his home state (even those not agreeing with his current and past views) were more relaxed, he was less prone to that now, and it was a long time ago (and many knew the story already, but did not care).

      1. Stork Silver badge

        Re: Surely they have to go shopping?

        Further to the last point: how many of us can honestly say that we we never (perhaps when younger and/or under influence of something) have done things we after reflexion have realised were not appropriate?

        If we want "real" people in posts of responsibility we have to give some leeway.

      2. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Surely they have to go shopping?

        I'm glad I live in Germany.

        Things like the Ring doorbell can't show public areas (road outside your house, or the driveway to your mailbox, for example). And, if you have a flat (apartment), you can't use it for the house entryway or communal hallways. If you have a video system it cannot record, only show live images to the screen in the apartment.

        1. Julz

          Re: Surely they have to go shopping?

          Similar laws apply in the UK. Private citizens are only allowed to surveil their own property and shouldn't observe public or other peoples property.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Surely they have to go shopping?

            And yet the police have been handing out Ring doorbells to people living in high crime areas, and appeals are broadcast on the radio for doorbell footage as well as dashcams when plod are looking for evidence. I think this story is the first report I've heard of CCTV ending up in court and even here it's only the audio that is an issue, and the character of the perpetrator.

            But is it actually illegal to make an audio recording in public, or from your own property? What law is involved except CCTV?

            1. Loyal Commenter

              Re: Surely they have to go shopping?

              I think the principle is that, in public, it is legal to film people doing public things. It is not legal to film in private property without the consent of those involved. What constitutes "public" and "private" is probably a bit of a grey area. For example, try filming in a public toilet, and see how long before you, rightfully, get into some serious trouble.

              The right to photograph, and film in public includes filming the police, although they'll probably get shirty with you and try to stop you, despite having no legal grounds to do so.

              The principle, as I understand it, really is that if you can legally see it, you can legally film it.

              Audio, on the other hand is another matter. If you stand next to a couple having a conversation in public and eavesdrop on them, they will most likely become aware of it, and move away, or give you some choice words. If you use a long-range microphone to do the same, it's pretty clearly listening in on something that is private.

              There is a reasonable expectation that if you are talking to someone and there is nobody else in the immediate vicinity, then that conversation is private.

              IANAL, of course, but I think the principles here are pretty clear.

              FWIW, I don't think most CCTV cameras record audio. Image the poor bastard in the control room for a town centre's public CCTV trying to make sense of the Friday night cacophony if they did. They're there to provide evidence of who hit whom with a glass bottle in which kebab queue.

              1. big_D Silver badge

                Re: Surely they have to go shopping?

                That is the big difference between the UK and Germany. In Germany, you cannot film/photograph people in public without their permission, if they are recognisable or the main subject of a photograph. The same goes for car registration plates - which is why most dashcam footage from Germany has either the bottom half of the image blurred or the plates individually blurred.

                If you photograph a fountain, for example, and people are wandering past in the background, that is allowed. If they are in the foreground, you need their permission to use the photo or to publish it online. The same is true for film, if you don't get a waiver, you cannot upload the film to the Internet without making the persons in the shot unrecognisable.

                1. Loyal Commenter

                  Re: Surely they have to go shopping?

                  To be fair, if I was photographing a fountain and people wandered into the foreground, it would be a ruined shot. If at all possible, I'd be trying to take the picture without people in the background as well.

            2. Cynical Pie

              Re: Surely they have to go shopping?

              GDPR & DP - the minute it is for anything other than personal use, which is a specific exemption, it becomes subject to GPDR/DP.

              So using a Ring doorbell to answer the door while you are in the garden or away from home is exempt processing. The minute any recorded footage is then passed to the Rozzers you are no longer processing for personal use and you need to satisfy Art 6 and potentially Art 9 of GDPR to allow the processing to be lawful.

              Its a classic Information Governance 'it depends' situation,

              1. Loyal Commenter

                Re: Surely they have to go shopping?

                There are specific exceptions to GDPR/DP for policing, so what you wrote doesn't quite hold true, if, for example, you supplied that recording to the police as evidence towards an investigation.

                If you pass those recordings onto a third party who is not exempt, such as Joe Public, or posted them on your social media site of choice, then this is probably a better example of unlawful use.

          2. MarkTriumphant

            Re: Surely they have to go shopping?

            It is OK to have view of public property, but other peoples' property is off limits.

          3. Roopee

            Re: Surely they have to go shopping?

            Do you have a source for that assertion (which I’m pretty sure is wrong)?

            1. Jonathan Richards 1

              Re: Surely they have to go shopping?

              I think everything that one needs to know will be in Domestic CCTV systems - guidance for people using CCTV []

              That does not seem to place other people's property off limits, but says "[...] if your system captures images of people outside the boundary of your private domestic property – for example, in neighbours’ homes or gardens, shared spaces, or on a public footpath or a street [...] [t]hen the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA18) will apply to you, and you will need to ensure your use of CCTV complies with these laws.

              1. coddachubb

                Re: Surely they have to go shopping?

                Does that apply to dashcams as well?

    2. Sgt_Oddball

      Re: Surely they have to go shopping?

      The cameras on my house being intrusive actually works to it's favour (having witnessed a roving gang of oiks consider checking if our front door was locked and thinking twice after spotting the red ring from the infrared and promptly sodding off.) whilst the neighbours ring doorbell did sod all to stop them giving their door a try.

      However, I don't have audio recording, I do have zoning set up and I have spoken to the neighbours about how I've got it set up. It also doesn't hurt that I've got tall hedges since I appreciate privacy, It makes sense for me to ensure I'm only covering my own land and no-one else's.

      Being considerate of its use hasn't cost me anything and I'm pretty sure won't result in a court case after a neighbour gets freaked out because I can't understand how others might take issue.

      Now, on that note. Get off my lawn!

      1. Warm Braw

        Re: Surely they have to go shopping?

        I was just looking yesterday at some video posted of a break-in at a local gym. The first thing the fully-masked intruder did was to walk directly to the indoor camera pointing at the entrance - whose location he obviously knew - and pull it off the wall. It's unlikely that the brief video alone would be enough to identify the culprit.

        Video surveillance might deter an opportunist trying door handles, but so would ensuring your door is locked. I'm less convinced about its usefulness in deterring determined criminals or careless vandals and I suspect the potential value of these products for "peace of mind" is being exaggerated for marketing purposes - much like burglar alarms.

        1. wyatt

          Re: Surely they have to go shopping?

          First thing I'd do if I was a criminal is send someone else with a spray can of paint to cover everyones ring/accessible CCTV cameras. There goes most the evidence they may have captured.

        2. Sgt_Oddball

          Re: Surely they have to go shopping?

          Yeah.. Good luck with ripping any one of the three off a wall. You'd need a stepladder or accomplices to hold a ladder to reach the front two. Specifically a ladder that extends to at least 10ft. Oh and good luck keeping it steady on the loose stones that cover the driveway.

          For the rear camera less of a challenge, save for being directly over a very steep and fragile outhouse roof in a back garden that requires making it through either the neighbours gardens first or clearing the other two cameras first, then climbing over/breaking through a very sturdy shed.

          So it's far more of a task than your average chancer is willing to take.

        3. Loyal Commenter

          Re: Surely they have to go shopping?

          This is why a properly security conscious person will stick up a cheap £5 dummy camera to deter, and proper cameras elsewhere to monitor intruders.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Surely they have to go shopping?

        I setup CCTV at my mum's house after she had been conned twice by builders.

        It only covered her property and was triggered by movement.

        It stopped a significant number of people from ringing her doorbell.

        You would see them come up the garden path, spot the camera high up on the wall and turn around and leave.

    3. Draylynn

      Re: Surely they have to go shopping?

      Not the entire point of the story tho and it does 'not' set a legal precedent, so I wouldn't worry about it. The core issue here: Harassment.

      You can record CCTV etc if it's to combat criminal activity...

      But this clown setup cameras, lied about it, did it to the point of sheer harassment and when he didn't get the reaction he wanted, then used those cameras on their neighbour to attempt to exact revenge for an earlier argument.

  5. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. Mr. Flibble

    HHJ Clarke said " appears from the evidence before me 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."

    .... no shit Sherlock, that's how it's supposed to work

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      That was the quote I had copied as well - I suppose you could have the recording masked...But to be honest... why bother?

      My main camera covers a significant amount of road and the front of several houses opposite - it's quite carefully aligned to avoid covering more than the edge of my neighbours driveway - but it does still cover it to some extent.

      1. Jonathan Richards 1
        Black Helicopters

        In that case...

        ... you must ensure that your operation is GDPR compliant. See my post with link, above.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: In that case...

          Aside from putting up signage I think that motion triggering from an area on my property is enough to limit the recording to a suitably small set.

          But I'm keeping the audio on, since one of the main reasons for the camera is an instance of someone following me home and then coming back later with "help" to assault me, the audio recording there would be important.

          I'm sure it used to be the case that there was no expectation of privacy whilst walking down the street.

  7. mark l 2 Silver badge

    It might be against an individual privacy to film someone else private property, But yet this doesn't stop the police asking if your CCTV has captured something that occurred on someone else property, if it can help them solve a crime. I know this from personal experience when around 2 years ago there was an incident a few doors down the street from my house and the plod knocked on my door asking if my CCTV covered the location.

    Something we should really be asking is why these ring door bells or other security camera need to be able to pick up audio from 40 meters away?

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Because what limits how far away you pick up audio? A really loud sound can be heard for thousands of miles - but AGC is the sensible way to deal with any local audio source - keep the gain up until you clip...

      You'll pick up the loudest/closest sound...

  8. Mad Mike

    Real Issue Here

    Strikes me the real issue here is his actions, not really where the cameras were etc. Even the ICO official advice (as posted elsewhere) says it's OK for your camera to cover public or other peoples private areas, provided it's not excessive and you've done your best to minimise it and ensure nothing particularly sensitive (such as looking through a window) is included. They then say you'll obviously need to obey the DPA, including things like SARs and taking adequate security measures etc.

    What's really the issue here is the way he reacted, tried to mislead the doctor etc.etc. Plus, he didn't act reasonably beforehand. If he'd spoken with everyone using that shared parking area and explained what he was going to do (put a camera on it all) and they all had no objection, can't see him being in the situation now. Normal neighbourly behaviour you would hope. From the layout shown in the media, can't really see how his camera covered her back garden (except through overshoot maybe and not pointing it downwards enough) and his ring doorbell certainly doesn't look to cover her property.

    Maybe he should have spoken with them all, explained what he wanted to do, got their agreement (or not) and then when he'd done it, shown each of them the footage etc. Then, if she had an objection to one of the cameras seeing unduly into her garden, he could have adjusted it. Being a good and reasonable neighbour would seem to avoid most of these things.

    Thumb Up

    Kamera macht frei

    The truth is that the general public is littered with those who lie, cheat, and steal -- and more often than not get away with it. Video tells the truth and helps nail them. 99.9% of cam owners do not care at what hour you did your walk of shame; they care about which punk keyed the neighborhood's cars last night.

    No police force has the resources to solve these expensive crimes. So, thanks to cheap tech, deadbeats will now more likely pay for their worthless, vandalizing spawn; their dogs defecating on neighbors' lawns; etc.

    A few weeks ago, I watched as the bathrobed dullard next door spent an hour and a half -- starting at 11:00 PM -- with the animal-control officer, who lectured her; compelled her to pick up her freshly deposited pile of dog Scheiß; and made her wait while he wrote her multiple tickets, for trespass, no-leash, poop-and-run, etc.

    It was glorious, and I watched it all on the same cam that caught her in the act!

  10. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    Did I read that correctly? He put a camera up on someone else's property? Isn't that essentially vandalism and/or damage? If someone put a camera on my wall without asking I'd remove it.

  11. Simon Rockman

    From the chatter on my street's Whatsapp group I think most people would be quite happy of the whole road was covered. If you have a phone, use a bank card or drive a car you have no privacy. Get over it.

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