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Do Nest (and similar) doorbells and cameras constitute an invasion of privacy?

This was the issue addressed in a recent ruling of the Court of Appeal for the Second District — Mezger v. Bick, 2021 Cal. App. LEXIS 550.

This case involved a dispute among neighbors in a gated community.  The plaintiffs were neighbors to comedienne Kathy Griffin.  They alleged that their privacy was invaded by a series of Nest cameras installed on Ms. Griffin’s property, some of which recorded portions of the plaintiffs’ backyard and pool and also recorded audio.  It was alleged that the cameras were specifically installed to invade their privacy and for the purposes of being used by Griffin to assist in further HOA complaints against the plaintiffs – there was a history of noise complaints made by Griffin against the plaintiffs.

In the superior court, the defendants moved for summary adjudication, indicating that the plaintiffs’ privacy was not invade and, further, since defendant Kathy Griffin was a public figure who had received death threats, the installation of the security cameras was reasonable.  The superior court granted summary adjudication, finding that any privacy intrusion was insubstantial.

On appeal, the Court affirmed, “holding no serious privacy invasion had occurred. Defendants provided evidence they had legitimate safety concerns because of the comedian’s status as a public figure and past death threats and stalking. They also presented evidence their recordings were made exclusively from the comedian’s property, only captured sounds that could be heard from their property, and any video of plaintiffs’ property was incidental to their interest in securing defendants’ second story bedroom.”  Mezger v. Bick (July 1, 2021, No. B305745) ___Cal.App.5th___ [2021 Cal. App. LEXIS 550, at *1].)  There was no evidence that the cameras had been installed for harassment or purposes of spying on the neighbors.

Certainly, in this case, the installation and use of the surveillance cameras was not an invasion of privacy, given the reason the cameras were installed.  The Court hints that, if they had been installed for an untoward purpose, or specifically for spying on the plaintiffs, that may have constituted an invasion of privacy – no such evidence was presented in this matter.

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