How doorbell cameras can be friend or foe

How doorbell cameras can be friend or foe
How doorbell cameras can be friend or foe

Recently VALKYRIE (GB) LIMITED were advising a client involved in a dispute with a neighbour over parking rights and property boundaries. It had become quite nasty with various tactics being used by the neighbour towards our client, one of which was that our client was convinced she was being covertly videoed. We investigated this claim and confirmed her concerns, we identified 3 ‘doorbell type cameras’ being used covertly, 2 of which were positioned viewing directly onto our clients property. The case was more sinister than the Fairhurst v Woodward (2021) one in Oxford where the judge ruled the defendant’s use of a Ring doorbell as an ‘unjustifiable invasion of privacy’.

Smart doorbell cameras are dominating the market for video/audio operated home surveillance devices and are a good addition for home security (preventing parcel theft or confirming whose at the door to name 2 uses). However, privacy campaigners argue that doorbell cameras are placing entire neighbourhoods under surveillance. Their use has increased vastly in recent years, with the 5 leading brands (Inc. Ring) clocking up 3.5 million sales globally in 2021. In the UK (2022) its estimated that 1 in 5 properties now have a video doorbell installed.

Much like other forms of technology, smart doorbell cameras were created with good intentions. However, have the rapid advances in the technology turned the humble doorbell into something increasingly dystopian. Despite their small size, these devices are sophisticated systems, with high-definition night-vision cameras and microphones that can pick up audio up to 6-metres away.

Under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, 1998 everyone in the UK has a right to a private and family life. The laws that apply to issues around the use of smart doorbells are the UK Data Protection Act 2018 and UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In short, domestic surveillance systems should not stray beyond the boundaries of a homeowner’s property. Any footage detected outside your property is likely to breach UK-GDPR laws. To install/use your smart doorbell without risk of breaching your neighbour’s privacy and falling foul of the law ensure:

1.the equipment is used in a way that respects the rights of others, especially neighbours
2.ensure cameras do not look onto a neighbour’s property and are not too close to the border of your property so that they detects neighbouring audio
3.ensure that the scope (e.g., the distance) of data capture is reasonable for its purpose
4.cameras are not positioned anywhere that doesn’t serve to prevent crime
5.consider putting up a sign stating your use of the device
6.follow published guidance, such as UKGOV/ICO guidance for use of domestic CCTV

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