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How much could a video doorbell cost you?

Posted: 23/12/2021

In mid-October video doorbells hit the news when it was reported that a man could be forced to pay his neighbour £100,000 after a judge found that his use of the technology was in breach of the data protection principles.

In recent years, video doorbells have become an increasingly popular device: supporting householders to feel safer in their homes and to make sure that we never miss a parcel.

However, in essence this is a form of domestic CCTV and its use carries with it a number of potential data protection compliance issues – including for individual householders. CCTV for data protection purposes encompasses any video surveillance equipment mounted or fixed on a home, including cameras fitted into doorbells.

Whether or not the use of domestic CCTV is regulated by data protection laws will depend on what people are capturing.  The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) advises that, if you limit the scope of the CCTV to the boundary of your private domestic property (including your garden), then data protection laws will not apply to you.  However, if your system captures images of people outside the boundary of your home, for example, in neighbours’ homes or gardens, shared spaces, or on a public footpath or a street, the UK GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018 will apply. If your use falls into that bracket (and many video doorbells are likely to capture areas outside of the homeowners’ property) users should take steps to ensure that their video equipment does not fall foul of the law. Before starting to use a system, the ICO advises individuals to ask:

  • Do I really need CCTV?
  • Are there other things I could use to protect my home, such as better lighting?
  • What is the most privacy-friendly way to set up the system?
  • What areas do I want the cameras to capture?
  • Can I position the cameras to avoid intruding on my neighbours’ property or any shared or public spaces?
  • Do I need to record the images, or is a live feed enough?
  • Has my CCTV system got an audio-recording facility? Audio recording can be very privacy-intrusive so in most cases where householders use CCTV, they should disable audio recording.

Given the potential for dispute between neighbours, social housing providers may need to consider how to deal with requests to install video equipment, including video doorbells and how the devices might interact with or complicate their handling of ASB.

If individuals still want to use a video-device after they have asked themselves the above questions, they should make sure that they are doing so in a transparent and fair way. This will include letting people know about the recording by putting up signs; making sure they are not capturing more footage than they need to; and ensuring the system is secure. In relation to the latter, individuals should think about the device that they have bought and the security standards that it follows. If the footage is ultimately stored in an insecure location that is easily hackable, your own security could be at risk, in addition to it raising data protection concerns.

If people get it wrong, they risk dealing with a complaint from an irate neighbour – either to the police (if they think it amounts to harassment) or the ICO (in respect of data protection breaches), or potentially even a court claim against them, as in the case that hit the press in October. In that case, it has been reported that the individual installed as many as four devices around his home. The reported potential damages in that case do seem high and whilst the press reported the £100,00 figure, the award had not yet been determined at the time the case hit the press, so it may be that the eventual award is less significant. In a Scottish case in 2017 a couple was awarded damages of £17,268 for the harm they suffered on account of the “extravagant, highly intrusive” use of CCTV and audio recording by their neighbours.

The accessibility of devices such as these and their widespread popularity and uptake means that we should all be mindful of the privacy of others in our home lives as well as at work – data protection compliance is no longer something that is confined to the workplace.  

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Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP