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Data Protection Act damages success against neighbours' "oppressive" CCTV

7 February 2017

An Edinburgh couple have been awarded damages for distress caused by their neighbours' oppressive and intrusive use of CCTV cameras.

Sheriff Nigel Ross at Edinburgh Sheriff Court found in favour of Debbie and Tony Woolley in a case brought against their downstairs neighbour Nahid Akram, who in 2013 with her husband installed video and sound recording equipment covering their property which they ran as a guest house.

The Woolleys claimed that the cameras captured images and sound from their property in addition to that of the Akrams', and that this breached the Data Protection Act 1998. Sheriff Ross agreed, describing the surveillance as “extravagant, highly intrusive, and not limited in any way”. He found that the cameras, which ran 24 hours a day, had been deliberately set so as to cover the Woolleys' property as well, and were capable of picking up conversations in their rear garden.

Holding that there was "no legitimate reason" for the nature and extent of the coverage, he awarded the Woolleys £8,634 each, accepting the basis of their claim, at £10 a day for the duration of the wrong, as a "statable and logical" one, and that the effect on them had been "profound and destructive".

Paul Motion, partner at BTO Solicitors, who acted for the Woolleys, said he believed the case to be the first of its kind in the UK. 

He commented: “The use of CCTV grows ever more widespread and this judgment should serve as a wakeup call to businesses that they need to follow due process and heed the ICO guidance. Here the court awarded damages because three data protection principles were breached. First, no information was provided before the installation of the cameras about the extent of the recording and the reasons for it, so it was unfair processing, and there was no legal basis for the recording, breaching the first data protection principle of processing data fairly and lawfully.

“Secondly, the use of the cameras which recorded the defenders' premises and the property next door, was found to be excessive as it was without justification. This was in breach of the third data protection principle that processing should be adequate, relevant and not excessive.

“Finally, the footage was kept for five days which was longer than was necessary, breaching the fifth data protection principle that personal data should only be retained for as long as is necessary.

“Fitting CCTV isn't as simple as fitting cameras and switching them on. Businesses should consider taking advice to ensure the installation and operation are compliant with the DPA. Householders too are covered by data protection law if their system captures public areas."

He warned that there was also the potential heavy fines for contravening the Act.

Mrs Akram's solicitor said she was "actively considering" an appeal.

Click here to view the sheriff's judgment.


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