24 Sep 2021

Video doorbells vs data protection

In recent years, video doorbells have become an increasingly popular tool to help individuals feel safe in their property, or simply to avoid the annoyance of having to chase a parcel delivery driver down the street!

However, the use of this popular form of “domestic CCTV” brings with it a number of data protection questions for both individual users and social housing providers. The use of the term “domestic CCTV” may not seem to apply to video doorbells, but the term encompasses any video surveillance equipment mounted or fixed on a home, and it can include cameras fitted into doorbells.

Many of us will have heard about data protection in a work context, but it may not be apparent that it can also apply to the devices that we use in our own homes. 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 and 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.

If individuals still want to use a video-device which captures images of identifiable individuals beyond their boundary, 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. Consumer champion Which? tested a number of video doorbells earlier this year and found that many fell short when it came to cyber security, so individuals should take steps to make sure that the one that they buy is up to standard – both from a data protection perspective and to ensure they are not putting their own security at risk.

If people get it wrong, they risk dealing with a complaint from an irate neighbour – either to the police or the ICO, or potentially even a court claim against them. 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.

Social housing providers may find that they are increasingly having to deal with disputes between neighbours involving video-equipment, or requests to use video doorbells or other CCTV and should be mindful of these issues when considering their next steps. 

Pennington Manches Cooper recently hosted a webinar on domestic CCTV, doorbells and data protection with Sam Rose and ASB consultant, Janine Green. You can watch the webinar here.

Written by Sam Rose

Sam Rose is a CIH member and senior associate at leading law firm, Penningtons Manches Cooper. She works with the housing, charities and education sectors and advises clients on all areas of information, consumer, equality and public law.

Find out more about Sam