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 outlaw.com 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?