Scottish Sheriff Awards Couple Compensation For 'Distress' Caused By Neighbor's Use Of CCTV

from the effort-to-oppress dept

We’ve written plenty about CCTV here on Techdirt, and its creeping normalization around the world, but particularly in the UK. So it’s good to read a story on the legal news site about a rather unusual ruling from a Scottish court pushing back against the use of an intrusive CCTV system. It concerns a dispute in Edinburgh between the individuals Nahid Akram and Debbie and Tony Woolley. The latter couple live above a guest house run by Akram. For various reasons, both parties decided to install CCTV systems, but with rather different scope:

While the Woolley’s equipment “records images of their own external property only”, Akram installed “video and audio recording equipment” which allowed her, and her husband, to monitor comings and goings at the Woolley’s property and to listen in to conversations in their private garden, according to the ruling. The equipment used by Akram was capable of storing five days’ worth of data at any one time.

The [Scottish court’s] Sheriff described “the regime of surveillance” that the Woolleys were subjected to as “extravagant, unjustified and highly visible” and as “an effort to oppress”. He said that the Woolleys and their family had “suffered considerable distress” since Akram’s equipment had been installed in about October 2013 and that it is “difficult to conceive” a more intrusive case of surveillance.

Until recently, suffering “distress” from CCTV would not have been enough in order to receive damages: there needed to be an actual financial loss. But an important 2015 case in the UK involving Google ruled that:

the claimants can claim for distress without having to prove pecuniary loss. This greatly increases the scope for compensation claims in the future given an invasion of privacy will rarely be accompanied by actual monetary loss.

Aside from the award of over $21,000 to the Woolleys, the Sheriff’s judgment is also noteworthy for how he spelled out the distress they suffered:

“They have all been severely restricted in the use and enjoyment of their own home,” Sheriff Ross said. “They voluntarily restrict their external movements. They restrict their conversations, both inside and outside their home, as they are aware that they are being recorded and do not know the extent of the coverage.”

Although he is talking about surveillance in the physical world, his concerns have obvious parallels in the online world, which is under growing government surveillance, not least in the UK. Already, some people are starting to restrict their digital movements and their conversations as they are “aware that they are being recorded and do not know the extent of the coverage.” The question is: why should such “distressing” surveillance be punished in the real world, but permitted in the digital one?

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Comments on “Scottish Sheriff Awards Couple Compensation For 'Distress' Caused By Neighbor's Use Of CCTV”

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Anonymous Coward says:

This is so typical of Techdirt. They report on a story and leave out crucial facts to give readers a better understanding of what they are reading. Shame on you, Mike Masnick.

The spat between the two parties began when the Akrams applied to change the use of their property from a guest house into a bail hostel for up to 18. Tony and Debbie opposed the application and it was subsequently refused by the city council, sparking a spat between the two families. This is when both parties installed CCTV cameras outside their home, which began a 36 month ordeal between the two families.

Both parties installed CCTV cameras, the Woolleys’ system covering the front of their house, a staircase to their entrance door at the side and their garden. The Akrams installed four cameras and four audio recording boxes, which operated 24 hours a day and were set to record permanently . . . but all pointing at the Woolleys’ home. “When they were installed, my wife went out and spoke to the engineer who was putting the boxes up and was told they were just junction boxes,” said investment contractor Tony, 46.

The Akrams uised the video camera they installed to spy on the Woodley’s daughter, visiting son and the parents themselves.

Next time, do some research. LOLS

To make it worse, they were not awarded $31,000, they were awarded £17k, which comes out to around $21,000-$22,000 U.S.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Your point is meaningless.
Is there more in-depth reporting on this story? Yes.
Is this a tech blog, writing a story about surveillance and its effects, making a comment about a court acknowledging surveillance itself having a chilling effect? Yep.
Do we need the kind of local newspaper journalism you’re looking at in order to take notice of that part of the ruling? Nope.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

No… I am more than ready to annoy TD with calls about perceived bias and spin in their articles, but I don’t think that is the case here in the least.

It really does not matter what prompted the invasive cctv system, it is just the simple fact that it happened and caused distress. It is pretty clear from the information here that the Akrams were intentionally harassing their neighbors. This is one of the situations where the original problem is really not needed for context.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“They report on a story and leave out crucial facts to give readers a better understanding of what they are reading.”

They link to the original reporting upon which their opinion article is based, and nothing you said had anything to add to the issue at hand. Not a single word changes the point of the article you’re attacking.

Which part of the article you quoted is relevant to this article? Bearing in mind that while accusing others of dishonesty, you might note that articles tend to bias their coverage toward their readership (i.e., most of what you quoted is geared toward the local area and as a personal story, whereas none of that is relevant to the tech that the audience here would want to read).

“To make it worse, they were not awarded $31,000, they were awarded £17k which comes out to around $21,000-$22,000 U.S.”

The article says $21k. Can anyone else confirm if this article was edited (which is unusual without a comment from Mike to state that it has been), or is this moron hallucinating again?

Cowardly Lion says:

Re: Re: Re:

"Unfortunately, people roll over like little dogs often."

I don’t think it’s that simple. Although the media covered some aspects of the Snowden disclosures, there was next to nothing to explain what it meant to ordinary people in real terms. So I wasn’t that shocked at the lack of outrage. I really wish people were more passionate about privacy, but they’re not. And I have to ask myself; would I be prepared to take to the streets over this issue? Possibly. Maybe. But until there’s some kind of groundswell, I’ll make do with VPNs, ToR, Tails, writing to my MP…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Uh, ya… it really is just exactly that simple. Just because that reason is different depending on the demographic means nothing.

heck, the damn declaration of Independence even addresses that problem as well. People are just simply predisposed to suffering injustice as long as it is tolerable. NutShell Wisdom!

People rolling over like little dogs often is just another way of saying that. Against, knowledge while useful, is not the primary cause for this… people are just that fucking apathetic, which is what lead to the lack of knowledge to begin with incidentally.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

He’s probably already got a smart TV and some of those game boxes, along with those voice activated boxes that ‘do’ things for you and sending your conversations to the providers, and is fine the the implications. Plus, his family is SOOO boring that the idea of doing nothing wrong means he has nothing to hide has the local authorities doing regular wellness checks to see if they are still alive.

Anonymous Coward says:

The fact is, someone wanted to change the designation of their home and another family decided to oppose it just because. This kind of petty bullshit from the Woolley’s kind of exacerbated the problem with the Akrams.

Personally, I think both parties are to blame for this crap and all it’s going to do is turn this into a full blown out war.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re:

  1. the impetus for ths cams may have originated from the zoning change, but so what ?
    2. yeah, you live above a ‘guest house’ (whatever that means), and they want to increase the number of people allowed to stay there, it is not unreasonable to oppose that…
    shit, i cant stand living cheek-by-jowl in a normal suburban setting, i can’t imagine a LOT of stupid nekkid apes undrrfoot… why i live in the country with more critters for neighbors than stupid nekkid apes…
    3. i don’t care if it urban public spaces, private property, schools oe bidnesses, having sauron’s all-seeing eyes everywhere is the mark of police state, not a free society…
    time to burn the mutha down and let the cockroaches have a shot…
Anonymous Coward says:

Brisbane public audio recording "for the children"

As British & Australian law is almost the same maybe the citizens of Moreton Bay Council in the northern outer metro region of Brisbane (But not Brisbane City Council for those pedantics) could possibly use this ruling in their fight against the recording of audio & video in public places if affects people on their private properties with 330 devices around the area.

Yep, it’s for those blessed children that this invasion of privacy is being brought in for.

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