'Smart', or 'video' doorbells can detect movement, record and store both footage and sound.

With motion detectors, two-way talk and a wide field of view they offer peace of mind, and installation may even be encouraged by the police. However, as highlighted by Mark Gipson's article 'Neighbourhood Watch' of 8th December 2021, they can also encroach upon the privacy of neighbours or passers-by when installed or managed incorrectly.

Considering installation of a smart doorbell or CCTV?

Landlords frequently receive requests for permission to install these devices, or alternatively discover that they have been installed by tenants without permission.

When used correctly, smart doorbells are not subject to data protection laws, however there are several potential issues that landlords and users need to be aware of.

In the case of Fairhurst v Woodard2021 (set out in more detail within Mark Gipson's 'Neighbourhood Watch' article) it was found that the defendant's continued use of the cameras amounted to harassment and breach of data protection laws, resulting in damages being awarded against him.

Molloy v BPHA Limited 2021 concerned neighbouring properties owned by the same housing association acting as landlord to both tenants. CCTV was installed following allegations of racist harassment by one tenant against the other and evidence gathered was used in injunction proceedings brought by the housing association.

This use of personal data was appealed by Molloy, and the Court of Appeal, who upheld the original decision, indicated that whilst it was not normal to be recorded by a neighbour, the particular circumstances of this case justified the CCTV use, which was only used to defend the user from the appellant's inappropriate behaviour.

General guidance

The ICO* recommends that CCTV cameras should be pointed away from neighbours' homes and gardens, shared spaces or public streets. Users should also give consideration as to how intrusive the CCTV activity is and whether they can take steps to reduce this.

If looking to install CCTV you should consider the following actions:

  1. Tell people that recording equipment is being used (and use signage where possible).
  2. Ensure the range of both visual and audio recording is no more than absolutely necessary.
  3. Regularly or automatically delete footage.
  4. Carefully manage requests for access to, or deletion of a recording by a person whose images have been captured (seek legal advice if you are unsure of your responsibilities).
  5. Stop recording a person if they object to being recorded, but only if it is possible to do so. For example, consider if the camera can be pointed in a different direction but can still be used for the same purposes, i.e. keeping the property safe.

The Birketts view

Where personal data is captured outside of the user's property boundary, for example of passers-by on the pavement, or using a shared corridor or driveway, the user is responsible for ensuring they are compliant with their obligations under data protection law.

The person in control of the processing of the personal data (which includes the recording, storing, viewing and listening to it) has the responsibility of deciding how personal data is processed and a duty to protect it from harm.

If you receive a complaint that you are unable to resolve it is recommended to take legal advice as soon as you are able.

Given the increased use of smart doorbells it is likely that there will be further court action in the future.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.