The Smart Doorbell and what it means for the public’s privacy.

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A judge in the UK had ruled that a homeowner’s use of the Ring video doorbell amounted to an invasion of their neighbour’s privacy. This case has potential to change the landscape for smart security cameras in both operation and use. The use of the specific Ring doorbell amounted to breaking data protection laws and was deemed as harassment. Whilst the ruling addressed the specific Ring brand video doorbell, it may be applied to other brands that fit the same criteria as Ring.

What is a smart doorbell?

The Ring video doorbell is a smart doorbell. A smart doorbell is a doorbell that allows a homeowner to remotely view who answers their door through the internet as the doorbell can detect motion. When someone has rung the doorbell, a person can check their phone or laptop and view their doorstep even when that individual is not actually at home or even in the country. The smart doorbell essentially can record anyone who passes through the area of vision that the doorbell’s camera has and depending on where the doorbell is situated, this can include other neighbouring properties or the street and so on. Smart doorbells also have audio recording capabilities in which the doorbell can detect and record audio of an individual several metres away from the actual doorbell itself. Some smart doorbells allow an individual to even speak through the doorbell as well. Whilst it is not always constantly recording, it does record once the doorbell has been rung and indiscriminately captures what can be seen or heard from the camera.

The case of the Ring video doorbell

The issue surrounding the case was that the homeowner in the case had installed multiple smart doorbells at different places on the property.  The doorbell could capture footage of the neighbour’s house, driveway and garden. The neighbour had felt that they were under constant surveillance due to this. As the doorbell could record both video and audio. The neighbour had made the case that these features could amount to harassment. 

The homeowner had insisted it was not specifically used to monitor the neighbour but rather as a deterrent for burglars or intruders. However, the Ring video doorbell had a large enough field of view that it could capture footage of the neighbour’s property and the surrounding area. In addition to this, it could also record audio automatically, and this was a feature that could not be turned off at the time until there was a 2020 firmware update. 

The judge had held that the doorbell can capture personal data from individuals who are not even aware that the device is in operation as the doorbell records audio. Therefore, the use of the smart doorbell was an infringement of the rights of individuals in the UK Data Protection Act and UK GDPR. 

Whilst this case can change how homeowners use smart doorbells, the homeowner in this case had excessively placed cameras across their property. It amounted to excessive surveillance and went outside the norm of what is necessary in order to monitor a property. Homeowners who use a smart doorbell are not automatically infringing on data privacy laws, it simply depends to what extent the surveillance and monitoring has been implemented by the homeowner. The homeowner in the case is potentially facing a £100,000 fine due to the breach of data privacy and protection laws in light of the infringement. 

What is next for those who use smart doorbells?

Depending on the brand of smart doorbells used, homeowners are likely to avoid breaching data privacy laws when utilising the settings of certain smart doorbell systems. Some of these systems can enhance privacy and security, such as limiting the recording of audio or the camera’s range of vision. It will all depend on how many neighbours start taking these smart doorbell users to court and the subsequent judgments. As a high number of fines handed out for the use of smart doorbells may change the operation of them entirely including the hardware and firmware put into these devices.

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