Smile, you’re on camera! When can video doorbells be used as evidence in legal proceedings?
28th March, 2023
I'm sure we've all seen the clips on social media of delivery drivers putting parcels in bins recorded on home CCTV systems such as "Ring Doorbells".
These devices are ‘smart’ doorbells which can detect movement outside your door, then record and store the footage. Their use is becoming increasingly common, with over 100,000 estimated users nationally. Their installation has even been encouraged by the police as a means of security, with many tenants of housing providers asking landlords for permission to install the devices. But what are the issues that can arise from recording such footage, and in what circumstances can this footage be used in as evidence in legal proceedings?
There is more to these devices than simply having the freedom to see who is at your door, their use has implications extending to data protection and use as evidence in legal proceedings.
Video doorbells should only be used for household or personal activity, i.e. the filming of an individual’s own personal property. This can include their doorstep, own garden or drive and shed or garage. However, they cannot be used to film property belonging to others, such as other people’s front doors, communal front doors, gardens or drives.
If used correctly, video doorbells are not subject to data protection laws. However, many fail to use the devices correctly, such as in the case of Fairhurst v Woodard where in a neighbour dispute, the use of the video doorbell amounted to harassment, nuisance and a breach of data protection laws.
Other, non-legal, issues with the devices include their potential to worsen neighbourly relationships. Neighbours may have concerns over invasions of privacy, especially as video doorbells may record sound, meaning a neighbour has the potential to overhear and even record a private conversation.
Video doorbells & court proceedings
The footage recorded by a video doorbell can, in some circumstances, be used as evidence for sharing with police or the authorities in anti-social behaviour cases. If users capture anti-social behaviour on their own property, the footage can be used in legal proceedings – usually with no issue. However, lines become more blurred when it comes to filming footage outside of an individual’s personal property. For example, the view out of someone’s front door which encompasses a block of flats.
In deciding if this footage can be permitted as evidence, a key factor is the severity of the anti-social behaviour recorded. In the case of Molloy v BPHA, it was alleged that the Claimant had been racially abusive to his neighbours from his own garden. In response to the allegation, BPHA (a housing association) advised the neighbours to install home CCTV, which then filmed the Claimant engaging in anti-social behaviour. This footage was used as evidence in injunction and committal proceedings brought against him by the housing association. He appealed against the orders made on the basis that the recording of the footage infringed his privacy. The court decided that, whilst it was unusual to be recorded by a neighbour, Mr Molloy’s behaviour had justified it. The neighbour’s own privacy and family life rights outweighed any considerations of Mr Molloy’s privacy, as such the footage was allowed as evidence.
Therefore, if the anti-social behaviour in question is severe, video doorbell footage may be accepted as evidence.
When it comes to the use of video doorbell footage in legal proceedings the position is not clear cut. It appears that key considerations will be the purpose and motive of the person with the CCTV, who is caught on the footage, the nature and degree of intrusion and the severity of the anti-social behaviour that is captured.
This is a murky area that will be considered on a case-by-case basis and given the increasing prominence of video doorbells it is likely this issue is something we will see cropping up in court more and more in future.
If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect social housing providers, or any other questions as a social housing provider, please do to hesitate to contact Melanie Dirom, or one of our expert Social Housing solicitors.
Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.
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