My neighbour has a Ring security light with a built-in camera on the back of their house, which I can see from my downstairs window.
There is a high fence between the properties and so it feels as if you have complete privacy, but it occurred to me the other day that if I can see the light and camera, it might also be able to see me.
Will the camera just look down and straight ahead, or do they have wide angle lenses? Could my neighbours be able to see through my window and inside my house?
It feels a bit awkward to ask about this, as I don’t want to accuse them of spying on me. Via email
A Ring security light and camera: What should you do if you are worried neighbours could see in your home?
Grace Gausden, This is Money, replies: Home security is incredibly important, but so is maintaining privacy at your property. Your question was emailed into us after a number of stories on smart doorbells and cameras, including whether they make your home safer and if burglars may see them as a sign of a gadget-laden home.
Many people are now installing CCTV at their homes to deter burglars, whilst others have smart doorbells or security lights which allow them to see who is outside their property, whether they are at home or not.
Your neighbour has a Ring security light, which is one of the most popular brands, and, whilst you are not sure of the exact model, their website says some of their products have a motion-activated camera and two-way audio.
This means they can see, hear and speak to anyone on their property, via their mobile phone.
One of the models also has a 140 degree field-of-view which will let users detect motion around corners and monitor blind spots. The camera can also be zoomed in and out.
Whilst it is a sensible choice for your neighbours to protect themselves and their home, you now believe they may be able to see into your downstairs window through the camera.
This raises issues of privacy as well as data protection.
According to the Information Commissioners Office, if someone is thinking of using private CCTV, they need to make sure they do so in a way that respects other people’s privacy.
It says: ‘If you set up your system so it captures only images within the boundary of your private domestic property, including your garden, then the data protection laws will not apply to you.’
However, if the camera’s field of vision goes outside of the home’s boundaries then GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018 will apply, and users will need to ensure their use of CCTV complies with these laws.
They will still be able to capture images, but must follow such rules as deleting images of other people if they request it; putting a sign up to show that they have CCTV; and ensuring the security of the footage they capture so that nobody can watch it without good reason.
Whilst security is helpful in case of burglaries, it could mean neighbours have a lack of privacy
If your neighbours can indeed see in to your home, they should only keep the footage for as long as they need it and delete files regularly when they are no longer needed.
All of this means that you are within your rights to speak to your neighbours about this and find out what the situation is.
If they can see in, you could politely ask that they do not use any footage of your property without permission, or even ask if they could move it slightly so you are not in their range of vision.
Advice to users from Ring
This is Money asked Ring what they thought and in response, it has given the following advice for users to help them comply with legal responsibilities.
It says the devices are not intended for installation where the camera is capturing someone else’s property or public areas.
1) We strongly encourage customers to ensure guests know they are being captured on video. In all Ring device packages, you’ll find free Ring stickers to put on your door or windows, which we suggest using to let guests know they’re on camera.
For customers that live in a shared property, we encourage them to let their neighbours, building owner, property manager, housing association, etc. know before installing their new device.
2) We are constantly executing our commitment to privacy, security and user control, and have implemented (and continue to roll out) various features that demonstrate this commitment:
– With motion zones, customers can control the areas they want their Ring device to detect motion. By defining motion zones that exclude their neighbour’s property or public areas, such as public pavements and roads, customers focus their notifications on events that take place on their own property.
– Using the audio toggle feature, Ring devices allow customers to decide if they want to stream and record audio. When a customer toggles audio off, they will no longer be able to hear audio when the device records a motion event, a live view, or an answered ring.
– With the privacy zones feature, a customer can define an area within their Ring device camera’s field-of-view that they can deem ‘off-limits.’ Once a privacy zone has been created, nothing that happens inside that defined area can be viewed or recorded.
We also asked security experts for their advice on keeping within the rules when using a doorbell security camera, and whether you should confront your neighbour.
Brandon Wilkes, digital marketing executive at The Big Phone Store, replies: Ring actually have a variety of different cameras with different lenses, including wide angle, so it’s difficult to say whether or not the camera will be able to see through your window.
Regardless of how awkward it may be, opening up dialogue about your concern would be the best way to proceed and if at all possible, confirming it with your own eyes.
Ring have a built-in privacy masking feature where you can stop your camera from filming areas that you shouldn’t be for situations exactly like this.
It’s also illegal within the UK to film someone in an area where they should expect privacy – your home being a prime example – so you can rest easy knowing that if you can’t mediate the situation with your neighbour directly, you have multiple ways of ensuring your privacy.
Kate Bevan, Which? computing editor, replies: Whether or not a security camera can capture footage of neighbouring properties will depend on where it is placed, however, some claim to have a 140-degree horizontal view so it is a possibility.
While data protection laws do not apply if the camera only covers the user’s private property, they do apply if it captures footage outside this boundary, for example on the street or nearby properties.
If a domestic CCTV camera films footage outside the boundary of the user’s home, data protection laws say that this needs to be justifiable. The law creates obligations including warning others that a camera system is in place, storing footage securely and only keeping it for as long as it is needed.
Grace Gausden, This is Money, adds: The best way forwards would be to just bite the bullet and speak to your neighbour to ascertain exactly what they can – or can’t – see of your property.
If nothing, problem solved. But if they can see in, find out exactly what they can see and whether this breaches your privacy.
It could be they can only slightly see in, this is unlikely to be a huge issue. But if they have a full view through your downstairs window, ask if they can adjust the camera angle, or use some of the tips Ring gave above to mean they cannot see you.
Although it is very unlikely to get to this point, if they refuse and fail to comply with obligations under the data protection laws, they may be subject to enforcement action by the ICO. This could include a fine.
They could also be subject to legal action by neighbours, who could pursue court claims for compensation.