Man faces paying £100,000 to neighbour after doorbell camera found to ‘breach privacy’

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The smart doorbell of neighbour John Woodard, 45, has a built-in camera and microphone and broke data laws and caused harassment to Dr Mary Fairhurst, a judge found.

Mr Woodard felt motivated to install the Amazon-owned Ring doorbells, which are connected to the internet and notify the absent homeowner through an app when a visitor arrives at the door, after masked thieves attempted to steal his car in 2019.

He placed four of them plus two dummies outside his house in a way that captured images and audio on Dr Fairhurst’s property, the judge ruled. Her gate, garden and car parking spaces were all being recorded.

The man, an audio-visual technician, valued being able to watch and talk to a visitor while being away from home but his neighbour didn’t think the same. She described the device as “intrusive”.

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Dr Fairhurst, a holistic health company director, said the devices placed her under “continuous visual surveillance”.

She told Oxford County Court that Mr Woodard became “aggressive” when she addressed the issue about the cameras to him.

The court heard that Dr Fairhurst was forced to move out of her home in Thame, Oxfordshire because of the gadgets.

Judge Melissa Clarke yesterday found that Mr Woodard had breached the provisions of the Data Protection Act 2018 and UK GDPR by not handling the images and audio files of Dr Fairhurst in a “fair or transparent manner” – entitling the doctor to compensation.

The judge’s orders also prevent Mr Woodard from continuing to breach the law with the devices.

She stated: “I am satisfied that the extent of range to which these devices can capture audio is well beyond the range of video that they capture, and in my view cannot be said to be reasonable for crime prevention.”

Mr Woodard claimed he bought the gadgets “in good faith”.

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Speaking to the Mail, he said: “To now be told these are harassment devices feels like a joke and I myself feel like I am being harassed.

“Many of my neighbours have cameras and smart doorbells.”

Thought to be the first ruling of its kind in the UK, it has the potential to set precedent for other Ring doorbell owners, of which there are more than 100,000 in the UK – meaning thousands of lawsuits over alleged breaches of privacy and data protection by concerned neighbours or guests could be filed.

Ring, responding to the ruling, told customers to put stickers on their door or windows to let guests know they are being captured on video.

A company spokesperson said: “We strongly encourage our customers to respect their neighbours’ privacy and comply with any applicable laws when using their Ring device.

‘We’ve put features in place across all our devices to ensure privacy, security, and user control remain front and centre.”

Mr Woodard, who is “extremely disappointed and shocked”, is expected to find out the damages payable to Dr Fairhurst in a court hearing in November.

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