A wooden hammer and gavel, as used in court rooms, on a white background.

A Legal Opinion On Ring Security Systems

As you may have seen in our previous blog, there has been a landmark case in the UK regarding the privacy concerns of neighbours living next to Ring security system owners.

We feel this case could have wider implications for homeowners with security systems in place and sought the legal opinion of a Barrister on steps that could be taken by the homeowner to avoid litigation.

We spoke to the Head of the Criminal Team, Barrister Benjamin Knight of Central Chambers in Manchester.

Benjamin was called to Bar in 2004 and has defended the most serious end of the criminal spectrum in cases involving serious organised crime, drug trafficking, manslaughter, firearms, gang violence and murder.

What Benjamin Knight Had To Say:

Benjamin Knight of Central Chambers, Manchester.

The first and most important thing to remember is that the Fairhurst v Woodward case was decided on its own facts. The problem with news coverage of any court case is that it only reports a minuscule amount of the relevant information. The relationship and history between the parties are undoubtedly nuanced and multifaceted. That said, there is no denying that the case has reignited discussions over the link between security and intrusion.


It is worth noting that Ring products sold in the UK include a copy of the GDPR and Data Protection Act requirements. Owners are expected to read these. You know – just like they will be expected to read the End User Agreement when installing software!


The authority on data protection in England and Wales is the Information Commissioner’s Office (www.ico.org.uk).


There are some rules of thumb to remember when it comes to CCTV and devices such as Ring doorbells.


The first rule is the easiest to understand; If your device only captures within the boundary of your property, neither GDPR nor the Data Protection Act 2018 applies.


That sounds easy, right? The rub is that Ring (for example) records audio with a range that often surprises. If that audio stretched beyond your property, data protection laws are triggered, even if the video doesn’t reach that far. Many users of such devices do not realise this. In fact, the ICO says that home CCTV should have the audio recording ability deactivated because it is more intrusive than just video.


So, what if your CCTV does capture audio/video from outside of your own premises? Well, that makes you a “Data Controller” in law. The only good news about that is that you no longer have to pay to register as Data Controller, in these circumstances.


There are practical and legal consequences of not taking that legal status seriously – including civil and criminal sanctions.


Make sure that you are only capturing what you need to capture. If you are worried about your front door, garage, and tool shed, make sure that those are the areas covered. Pointing a camera straight out at the road or at a neighbouring property is rarely going to be justifiable for general home security.


When considering home CCTV, before you buy anything, make a written note of why you are installing each device. Show that you have considered the ambit of each device. Consider the cumulative effect of the cameras. If you have a Ring-type doorbell and no front garden, you might want to note down why you have chosen to use a video doorbell over a regular one. Is it set to record all the time, just when somebody presses the button, or something in-between? Is audio recording turned on, despite the ICO’s advice? Keep the note you have written and store it safely. It may one day save you from a big fine.


Some of the headlines of that advice are, in my view, that you should always put up a notice that CCTV is in operation. You should delete recordings frequently – you are concerned with security, not making a documentary. NEVER share your footage online. Respond promptly to requests from individuals who you have recorded – whether those be for copies of the footage/audio, or requests that you delete any recordings you hold.


There is a very practical guide to rights and obligations around CCTV at https://ico.org.uk/your-data-matters/domestic-cctv-systems-guidance-for-people-using-cctv/

Police requests for CCTV footage


Be aware that the police are not entitled to copies of your CCTV in most situations. They may seek to persuade you otherwise. Taking legal advice from the police is never a good idea. Police are not lawyers. They do not know a great deal about GDPR or data protection. They may be delighted to have HD audio-visual cameras on every other door, but they will not pay your fine or indemnify you against civil claims by litigious neighbours.


Ring-style devices have added to global surveillance quite dramatically and swiftly. Lawyers have encountered them much more often in the past year. For every camera that captures a would-be burglar or happens to provide evidence of an assault in the street, there are many more making people feel uncomfortable.


In divorce cases and domestic abuse cases, video doorbells have been cited as tools of manipulation and control in the home – the home prison guard to the battered spouse. They have even been used to keep captive victims of human trafficking.


As with all new technologies, these devices can be used in a decent and responsible manner, or they can be misused or become a very expensive mistake.


 
Benjamin Knight


Barrister-at-law & Head of Crime


Central Chambers

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