Can I Be Taken To Court For Having A Ring Doorbell?
As outlandish as it might seem, there has been a legal precedent set in the UK for Ring doorbells and security camera systems breaching the GDPR regulations, resulting in a £100,000 fine for one homeowner.
In a landmark case, reported by the Daily Mail, a “plumber” was successfully taken to court by his neighbour for the use of his Ring security system, which infringed on the privacy of the neighbour in question.
With an estimated 25% of homes having some sort of smart recording device active, it could be a very worrying prospect if future legal cases follow this precedent. More importantly, if you are one of those homes that own such a system, do you have reason to worry?
Should You Be Concerned?
It is the opinion of the Safe Security Solutions team that you should not immediately remove your Ring devices and deactivate your home security just yet! Ultimately, the systems are there to provide you with protection from threats, not make you a target for litigation.
Ring systems (alternative providers are available) are an affordable solution for many homes but they are not without their shortcomings. We’ve covered some of these issues in previous blogs. Whilst they are more effective than standard CCTV, they might provide the illusion of feeling safe whilst not actually fully protecting you. Yes, they alert you to people at your door or motion being detected but they do not differentiate between actual threats and people going about their daily business.
This severely limits their operational use and effectiveness from a security installers’ point of view.
However, with so many homes relying on the Ring systems or a similar alternative, should those UK house owners be worried?
It is (in our opinion) unavoidable to pick up false alarms with conventional smart security devices and probable that the ability to record distant conversations (something this legal ruling strongly relies upon) is simply not possible.
Anyone who has used or tested one of these systems will know its limitations and we cannot foresee this case being the catalyst for thousands of future cases like it. Though we cannot rule that out.
The Safe Security Solutions team are a little shocked at the outcome but understand that privacy in a GDPR-world is important. We’ve also seen very few GDPR cases being upheld in court. This one is very unusual.
In our experience, we have found that police officers tend to go to homeowners with surveillance systems if there has been a crime committed in the area and seek assistance that can often aid with active cases. So rather than being a menace to society or posing a threat, these systems can be the difference-maker in bringing justice to criminals and opportunists.
We’re also of the opinion that smart home devices are actually better than standard CCTV. At least they detect and highlight incidents rather than continuously recording. That alone saves a lot of time trawling through footage to isolate a particular incident. The continuous recording is, arguably, a greater invasion of privacy.
So for now, we urge that people keep their smart systems in place, or, where possible, seek to upgrade to a system that only records when certain actions trigger the necessity to do so.
We’ll come back to that at the end of this blog.
Some Conflicting Points.
Let’s play Devil’s advocate for a moment.
We notice that the original article from the Mail Online does state a few conflicting points that (may not relate entirely to the case) could put a slant on the reporting of it.
The headline states that the man guilty of breaching his neighbour’s privacy was a plumber but it goes on to say that he’s an audio-visual engineer. We suppose you could be both but it does look like a headline-grab to state he’s in one occupation but then suggests he’s actually an audio-visual engineer.
We find this point quite interesting because the latter role would suggest that he would be qualified and experienced to understand the capabilities and shortcomings of recording devices.
We’re also going to tentatively suggest that there may be more to this story as the images in the article show that the neighbour between the two homes also has a Ring camera but was not being taken to court. This puts the two neighbours engaged in the dispute as indirect neighbours as they actually have a home in-between.
Lastly, it does state that “The judge found Mr Woodard’s use of his cameras broke data laws and his behaviour during his dispute with Dr Fairhurst amounted to harassment.” Which would suggest that there was perhaps an ongoing dispute. It points out that the camera’s audio range was “not reasonable for crime prevention” and that the defendant had sought to “actively mislead” his accuser about what the cameras were recording.
So whilst this may appear like an incredibly harsh ruling and for what it’s worth £100k in damages certainly is, we do suspect there may be an ongoing dispute that culminated in a focus on the Ring security system.
An Expert Opinion:
We asked Benjamin Knight, a Barrister at Central Chambers, Manchester, if we should be concerned from a legal perspective. His reply made for some very interesting reading and offered some helpful points to avoid litigation.
So What Do We Suggest?
Your home should be protected and you should not feel vulnerable to threats, that much is clear. Security systems are there to keep us safe but you can’t always account for how well you get on with your neighbours.
Firstly, as silly as it may seem, having a decent relationship with neighbours is probably some of the best security you can get. It costs nothing and may extend to simply being civil but it will almost certainly help avoid disputes as well as provide reliable and actionable information about the goings-on around your property so you are not entirely reliant on security methods.
We can’t help with that.
We can, however, help with security systems that do not invade your neighbour’s privacy.
The case above highlights the need for custom security systems rather than standard kits. Detection using the common smart security systems can be easily triggered by anything from pets and wildlife to strong winds and poor weather conditions. This leads to false alarms and a general lack of trust when it comes to the devices.
We’re not against smart home security methods but we have found that at we tested various devices, there are a lot of shortcomings. One member of our team even set up a Ring Doorbell and Spotlight, only to report that within a month, he was sick of 20+ notifications per day (mostly false alarms) and even had an alert in the middle of the night which turned out to be the neighbour’s cat falling out of the wisteria growing around the Ring doorbell!
The issue here is the more false alarms you get (funny cat things aside), the more you lose faith in your security system. Not every alert is a genuine issue so you end up with not much more than standard CCTV with an annoying notifications system.
Is There A Better Security Alternative?
Our systems differ because we take out the elements of doubt and create security that does not simply detect movement and cannot be rendered unusable by poor weather conditions, bad lighting, short camera ranges or cobwebs. Yes, even cobwebs have caused issues for ‘smart security systems’ with our testing.
We understand that for starters, placement is everything. Getting the cameras at the right levels and heights, making sure the lighting provides suitable visuals to actually identify threats. Though even then, we’d argue that it was too late.
We specialise in pre-detection systems. These include buried seismic detectors and fence-mounted vibration sensors. These can be set to not only trigger lighting, alarms or sirens but also alert the CCTV system to scan the particular area, ensuring not only a means to deter opportunists and threats but also gather reliable, submittable evidence. As well as live notifications.
True security should start the moment a threat crosses the boundary to your property or business. Our systems will work in wide, open spaces, along with expansive estates or in almost any open business environment. If you protect the perimeter correctly, you will rarely have to encounter a real threat.
Off-the-shelf, smart home security systems have their place and in many environments, they are fine. They can provide a deterrent and can be set to limit false alarms. We do not believe that the case in question will make much of an impact on how many homes rely on systems similar to Ring security but it may be a stark warning as to how people are currently using them.
If you have a similar system, especially to protect your business and feel its limitations, please feel free to get in touch with our team. We’ll try to ensure that you’re fully and properly protected without annoying your neighbours too much.