There is (understandably!) a lot of confusion around the use of domestic CCTV, including the cameras fitted in ‘Ring’ doorbells and similar systems, especially when those cameras are used by social landlord tenants, which can be compounded when the footage is used as evidence in complaints and ASB cases.
News stories covering cases such as Fairhurst V Woodard in October 2021, can confuse matters further. So what are the facts?
In a nutshell, if an individual uses CCTV (in a Ring doorbell or otherwise) for purely personal or household reasons, the use of the CCTV is exempt from the (UK)GDPR and Data Protection Act.
So what makes the use of CCTV “purely personal or household”?
The ICO guidance is that the filming should only capture areas within the home’s own boundaries. This includes the front or back of the home, including doors, a driveway, garden, or garage. However, it’s not quite that simple!
Based on the law itself, the way the footage is used is a clearer indicator of whether the use is for “purely personal or household reasons” or not. After all, an individual could film another person visiting their property, such as a courier, and be able to see their vehicle on the side of the road, but the footage could still be for their own personal or household reasons, such as being aware of visitors, which would not breach the law.
Also, the use of dashcams in cars is in general lawful, as long as the footage is not misused, and clearly dashcams record outside of an individual’s own home boundaries.
What are the risks if domestic CCTV is used in a way that is NOT purely personal/household?
When the way CCTV is being used stops being “purely personal or household”, the use of the CCTV is no longer exempt from the data protection legislation. This means the person who owns the CCTV becomes a Data Controller under the (UK)GDPR, with all the responsibilities this brings to comply with the law.
Uses of domestic CCTV that are not for “purely personal or household reasons” include publishing the footage online. When this happens, the person who operates the CCTV becomes a Data Controller, with all the responsibilities that brings. A member of the public is unlikely to be able to (easily!) comply with all the legal obligations of a controller, and will therefore likely be immediately breaching the (UK)GDPR once they use the footage in any way that is not purely personal or household use.
What is the problem with being a Data Controller?
As any Data Protection Officer will tell you, there are a lot of legal obligations to get your head around and to comply with! Breaches of the law leave you open to being fined by the ICO (in theory, but there haven’t been many GDPR fines in the UK so far) but also leave you open to being sued by other people whose privacy you’ve infringed.
In the Fairhurst V Woodard case, Mr Woodard was ordered by the court to pay £100,000 damages to his neighbour Dr Fairhurst. She had found he had several cameras recording her garden and parking space, and the court agreed with Dr Fairhurst that Mr Woodard’s use of cameras breached data protection law and amounted to harassment. You can read the BBC article on the case here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-58911296
Don’t let this scare you off using domestic CCTV or camera doorbells though – they can be a useful tool for your security, if used lawfully and securely.
The Fairhurst V Woodard case was a rare and extreme case; Mr Woodard’s cameras captured images of Dr Fairhurst’s house, almost the whole of her garden, and her parking space, plus the devices captured audio, which is even more invasive. The court also heard that Mr Woodard had continually failed to be honest with Dr Fairhurst about the devices, and that Dr Fairhurst eventually felt forced to move out of her home because of the invasion of her privacy.
In practice, many domestic CCTV systems will be filming pavements or a neighbour’s driveway, without it being on anyone’s radar or causing any problems. But if the footage is shared with the landlord to evidence alleged anti-social behaviour or misconduct by employees, people become aware of this overstepping of domestic CCTV rules, meaning it is firmly on the landlord’s radar, and could lead to complaints to the ICO, or even to court cases.
What action should Housing Associations take regarding tenants’ CCTV?
- Review your CCTV Policy and your Adaptations Policy and make sure they include domestic CCTV guidance. You may want to require customers to obtain permission before mounting cameras (although be aware this could involve a huge amount of extra work, and it gives the impression you’ll take action against unapproved cameras, which might not be practical – thanks to Janine Green for that tip). Or you could allow customers to put up cameras without informing you, which is simpler and quicker of course.
- Communicate with your customers and make advice on CCTV law readily available to them, so they are aware of how to use domestic CCTV within the law.
- Review your ASB Policy and your Complaints Policy and check that they include guidance for colleagues who receive copies of domestic CCTV footage as evidence in an ASB case or a complaint. You can, and should, delete copies of any footage you don’t actually need as evidence. Only keep footage that you have a clear legal basis for storing and using.
- Make sure you know how to handle Subject Access Requests (SARs) that include requests for CCTV footage, from your own cameras or a neighbour’s camera.
And bonus tip (and shameless plug!) the new book has a chapter on CCTV with more detail: A Practical Guide to Data Protection in Social Housing by Clare Paterson
We can provide specialist training on the topic of CCTV and can help you review and update your CCTV policies and guidance for customers.
Clare draws on 25 years of experience in risk management and quality assurance, including 10+ years in data protection, to provide clear and practical advice and training.
Don’t tell everyone (shh!) but Clare’s favourite sector is social housing, and has worked in and with housing providers for almost two decades, although she loves to support all values-led and purpose-led organisations.