Plumber fears losing home after camera breached neighbour's privacy

‘It’s going to ruin my life’: Plumber, 45, fears he will lose his £275,000 home after judge ruled his Ring doorbell camera breached his doctor neighbour’s privacy leaving him facing paying her £100,000 in damages

  • Jon Woodard from Thame, Oxfordshire, said the ruling in favour of Dr Mary Fairhurst is ‘going to ruin my life’
  • The 45-year-old audio-visual technician said he was left ‘extremely disappointed and shocked’ by the verdict
  • A judge found Mr Woodard’s use of cameras broke data laws and his behaviour had amounted to harassment
  • She claimed she was forced to move out of her home in Thame as internet-connected gadgets were ‘intrusive’

A plumber who has been could be forced to pay his neighbour £100,000 after a judge ruled his Ring smart doorbell cameras breached her privacy has warned he will lose his £275,000 home.

Jon Woodard, 45, from Thame, Oxfordshire, said the court ruling in favour of Dr Mary Fairhurst is ‘going to ruin my life’ and admitted he ‘can’t even afford £5,000’.

The audio-visual technician said he had been left ‘extremely disappointed and shocked’ by the verdict and is ‘petrified’ he will be left bankrupt.

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.

She claimed she was forced to move out of her home in Thame because the internet-connected gadgets were ‘intrusive’.

The doorbells, owned by US giant Amazon, notify the absent homeowner via a smartphone when a visitor arrives at the door.

The owner can then use an app to watch and talk to the visitor by using the doorbell’s built-in camera and microphone.

Mr Woodard insisted he fitted four devices – including two ‘dummies’ – around his property to protect his vehicles from masked thieves who tried to steal his car in 2019.

But holistic healthcare company director Dr Fairhurst told Oxford County Court the devices placed her under ‘continuous visual surveillance.’

Tuesday’s ruling is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK and could set precedent for more than 100,000 owners of the Ring doorbell nationally.

The court heard:

  • Mr Woodard fitted four devices around his house. He claimed he did this to protect his vehicles from thieves;
  • But a judge ruled he’d recorded Dr Fairhurst’s property including her gate, garden and car parking spaces;
  • Judge said he breached UK GDPR by not handling her personal data in a ‘fair and transparent manner’;
  • Ruled that Mr Woodard then sought to ‘actively mislead’ Dr Fairhurst about what the cameras recorded; 
  • Judge took particular issue with camera’s audio range, saying it is ‘not reasonable for crime prevention’. 

Jon Woodard (pictured, with his partner Nicola Copelin), 45, from Thame, Oxfordshire, said the court ruling in favour of Dr Mary Fairhurst is ‘going to ruin my life’ and admitted he ‘can’t even afford £5,000’ 


Dr Mary Fairhurst (left) who claimed the cameras on a neighbour’s smart doorbells breached her privacy won a landmark legal battle on Tuesday. Mr Woodard, 45, (right, with his partner Nicola Copelin) may have to pay Dr Fairhurst more than £100,000 in damages after a judge found his use of the cameras broke data laws

The internet-connected devices notify the absent home owner via a smartphone when a visitor arrives at the door. The owner can then use an app to watch and talk to the visitor by using the doorbell’s built-in camera and microphone

A female doctor is set to be paid more than £100,000 after a judge ruled that her neighbour’s Ring smart doorbell cameras breached her privacy in a landmark legal battle on Tuesday

People can buy basic Ring video doorbells from Ring’s website for around £40, going all the way up to around £160. Those wanting extra protection from thieves can buy security cameras starting at around £180 and going up to around £220.

Nest

At around £200, Google’s video doorbell Nest lets you know who’s at the door, so you won’t miss a visitor or parcel delivery. It can send an alert to your smart device, and can tell the difference between a person and something else.  


Left: Ring. Right: Nest

Arlo

With 180 degree diagonal viewing, Arlo captures  head-to-toe detail in 1080p video while the built-in siren helps deter intruders’, its website claims. Prices range from around £40 to around £180.

RemoBell

RemoBell operates on AA batteries, so you can install it anywhere without being restricted by power outlets or complicated wires. Customers can buy RemoBell cameras for around £130. 


Left: Arlo. Right: RemoBell

Ezviz

Like Ring and Nest, Ezviz lets you sand talk to your visitors from your smartphone anywhere. The built-in microphone and speaker make it easy for you to hear what’s happening outside the door. Costs around £135.

Lorex 

Lorex doorbells deliver ‘crisp HDR video and offers numerous features including color night vision, person detection, a built-in deterrent light and siren, and support for voice control’, the makers claim. Costs around £95.


Left: Ezviz. Right: Lorex

 

Mr Woodard told the Sun: ‘This court ruling means I am probably going to have to go bankrupt and close the business down because I can’t afford £100,000, I can’t even afford £5,000. How is that fair?

‘It’s going to be over £200,000 and I’m petrified. I know I’m going to lose my house and my business, it’s horrific. I won’t ever own my own house again. It’s going to ruin my life.’

Dr Fairhurst, who had lived peacefully next to Mr Woodard for two decades, claimed he had harassed her by becoming ‘aggressive’ when she complained to him about the cameras, the court heard.

Judge Melissa Clarke on Tuesday found Mr Woodard had breached the provisions of the Data Protection Act 2018 and UK GDPR.

Dr Fairhurst is now entitled to compensation and orders preventing the Mr Woodard from continuing to breach her rights with his security devices.

In her ruling, Judge Clarke said the images and audio files of Dr Fairhurst captured on the Ring devices were classed as her personal data.

She found Mr Woodard had failed to process her data in a ‘fair or transparent manner’ in accordance with his role as a ‘data controller’ as laid out by the Information Commissioner.

Judge Clarke said Mr Woodard had ‘sought to actively mislead the claimant about how and whether the cameras operated and what they captured.’

She concluded Mr Woodard had collected data outside the boundaries of his property and, referring to the shed camera, added: ‘I am satisfied that on many occasions it [the shed camera] had a very wide field of view and captured the Claimant’s personal data as she drove in and out of the car park.’

Mr Woodard had also installed a driveway camera, which he claimed was a dummy. The judge dismissed his claim and ruled it captured images and audio on Dr Fairhurst’s property including her gate, garden and parking spaces.

The judge dismissed Mr Woodard’s claim the driveway camera was used legitimately to deter thieves from stealing his car. She said ‘crime prevention, could surely be achieved by something less’ than the device.

Taking particular issue with the camera’s audio range, she added: ‘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.’

Speaking after Tuesday’s remote hearing, Mr Woodard said he was ‘extremely disappointed and shocked’ by the judge’s decision.

He told the Mail: ‘I purchased a ring doorbell and ring motion activated camera in 2019, in good faith to protect my property and vehicles.

‘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.’

Mr Woodard also said the decision went against current guidance from police forces, many of which have appealed for video doorbells footage to help gather criminal evidence.

He said: ‘I wonder if the police will now still be able to appeal to the public to check their smart doorbells, CCTV, and dashcams in order to assist them solve crime, and use to assist convictions.’

Mr Woodard also raised concerns for other ring doorbell owners after the ruling, adding: ‘I feel for the tens of thousands of homeowners with ring home security who could now be targeted in the same manner I have.’

In response to the ruling, Amazon-owned Ring asked customers to ensure guests know they are being captured on video by putting Ring stickers to put on their door or windows.

A spokesman for the California-based company 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 – including customisable Privacy Zones to block out ‘off-limit’ areas, Motion Zones to control the areas customers want their Ring device to detect motion and Audio Toggle to turn audio on and off.’

The damages payable to Dr Fairhurst are expected to be confirmed in a court hearing in November.

The ruling means anybody whose Ring doorbell camera films people outside the boundaries of their property could be accused of breaching data protection laws and the privacy of that person – potentially paving the way for thousands of lawsuits over alleged breaches of UK laws. 

Speaking to talkRadio’s Mike Graham this morning, security expert Will Geddes urged homeowners with Ring doorbell cameras to take steps to ensure the device isn’t unintentionally invading someone’s privacy.

He warned that people have got to make sure the view of the camera doesn’t intrude or invade into other people’s properties – including ‘not looking into other people’s windows, not even encroaching into their gardens or their property line’.

Mr Geddes also suggested people put up window signs saying where the cameras are hidden, and writing to their neighbours telling them that they are adjusting their cameras accordingly. 

‘It means you’ve got to be careful if you’ve got Ring cameras and she may have a very good case, it seems that she does in this instance,’ he told talkRadio. 

‘However, I don’t think necessarily the homeowner – the person who owns the cameras – was intending to invade on her privacy.

‘When it comes to CCTV, whether it be your Ring doorbell or whether it be a hard-wired sort of CCTV system, you’ve got to make sure you don’t intrude on other people’s privacy. 

‘The problem with Ring is you can listen live to it as you can with most CCTV cameras, but especially with Ring there’s an audible option.  

‘If you are putting CCTV around your house, maybe to protect your car as it was with this particular individual, you’ve got to make sure the view of the camera doesn’t intrude or invade into other people’s properties, so certainly not looking into other people’s windows, not even encroaching into their gardens or their property line. 

Dr Fairhurst is now entitled to compensation and orders preventing the Mr Woodard from continuing to breach her rights with his security devices

In response to the ruling, Amazon-owned Ring advised device owners to ensure people know they are filmed by putting Ring stickers on their door or windows


Audio-visual technician Mr Woodard insisted that he fitted four devices, including two ‘dummies,’ around his property to protect his vehicles from masked thieves who tried to steal his car in 2019

‘One of the things that you have to be considerate to is if they’re kind of covert or they’re hidden cameras, you need to have some kind of sticker in your window or signage that just alerts people. That in itself is a good deterrent, certainly to any kind of criminal.

‘These Ring devices which are now owned by Amazon are incredibly and increasingly popular, they’re very easy, very cheap and they do act as a very good security measure. 

‘However, it’s about misuse and it’s also about ensuring that you are not using it beyond the requirements or the agenda of why you’ve installed them.

‘If any of the viewers and the listeners have actually got Ring doorbells, or if they’ve got those peripheral devices, have a good look at those cameras through your live view on your app, on your device, whether that be your computer or your phone, and have a look and see whether it is intruding into your neighbour’s space. 

‘If it is, then you need to get a stepladder out this evening and just adjust it. 

‘Or even mention it to your neighbour and say ”look, I’m really conscious I’m not intruding on your privacy, I will adjust my cameras accordingly”. But make sure you write that in an email so you’ve got an audit trail to show that you are doing the best you possibly can.’ 

Expert comment: Will Geddes on doorbell cameras

Will Geddes on doorbell cameras

You’ve got to be careful if you’ve got Ring cameras and she may have a very good case, it seems that she does in this instance. However, I don’t think necessarily the homeowner – the person who owns the cameras – was intending to invade on her privacy.

When it comes to CCTV, whether it be your Ring doorbell or whether it be a hard-wired sort of CCTV system, you’ve got to make sure you don’t intrude on other people’s privacy. 

The problem with Ring is you can listen live to it as you can with most CCTV cameras, but especially with Ring there’s an audible option. 

If you are putting CCTV around your house, maybe to protect your car as it was with this particular individual, you’ve got to make sure the view of the camera doesn’t intrude or invade into other people’s properties, so certainly not looking into other people’s windows, not even encroaching into their gardens or their property line. 

One of the things that you have to be considerate to is if they’re kind of covert or they’re hidden cameras, you need to have some kind of sticker in your window or signage that just alerts people. That in itself is a good deterrent, certainly to any kind of criminal.

These Ring devices which are now owned by Amazon are incredibly and increasingly popular, they’re very easy, very cheap and they do act as a very good security measure. 

However, it’s about misuse and it’s also about ensuring that you are not using it beyond the requirements or the agenda of why you’ve installed them.

If any of the viewers and the listeners have actually got Ring doorbells, or if they’ve got those peripheral devices, have a good look at those cameras through your live view on your app, on your device, whether that be your computer or your phone, and have a look and see whether it is intruding into your neighbour’s space. If it is, then you need to get a stepladder out this evening and just adjust it. 

Or even mention it to your neighbour and say ‘look, I’m really conscious I’m not intruding on your privacy, I will adjust my cameras accordingly’. 

But make sure you write that in an email so you’ve got an audit trail to show that you are doing the best you possibly can.

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