Are Ring Doorbells Legal?
What You Need to Know
When it comes to smart home technology, Ring Doorbells are one of the most well-established brands on the market.
A video doorbell provides optimum convenience by allowing you to communicate with the visitors at your door from wherever you are in the world.
The tech devices also reassure you that your home is in safe hands even when you’re not in it by providing consistent surveillance and notifying you when it detects motion at your front door.
Suppose you are thinking of purchasing a Ring doorbell. In that case, you may well be looking to investigate whether the addition of surveillance cameras and microphones outside your front door will compromise your privacy rights or even cause your neighbors to invoke legal action.
In this article, we’ll cover some legal requirements for owning and installing a Ring doorbell, whether or not you should get permission from neighbors, and how to set up privacy zones to avoid potential issues.
- Are Ring Doorbells Legal?
- Do You Need Permission for a Ring Doorbell?
- Ring Doorbells – Other Potential Legal/Privacy Concerns
- In Summary
Are Ring Doorbells Legal?
Doorbell cameras are the smart home device you want to give you peace of mind and protect your home when you’re out and about.
While you may have no problem surveilling your home with security cameras on every surface, your neighbors may not be quite so keen if it invades their privacy in any way.
With the privacy laws differing in the US and UK, we have outlined the general legal information for both below:
Are Ring Doorbells Legal in the United States?
Doorbell cameras are legal in the United States, providing you adhere to some rules.
The privacy laws vary from state to state, but there are also some federal laws which apply to the whole of the US.
Fifteen states within the US have specific laws regarding security cameras. We have outlined these below:
- Arkansas – Consent is required if recording footage of individuals when they are in a private space.
- California – It is against the law to record conversations that are deemed confidential.
- Florida, Alabama, and Minnesota – Hidden video surveillance permitted in public spaces.
- Georgia – You are allowed to record video and audio footage in both public and private settings, providing the surveillance camera is in plain sight.
- Hawaii – You need to obtain consent from any parties captured by your security or surveillance camera.
- New Hampshire, Maine, Kansas, South Dakota, and Delaware – Consent is required when using hidden camera surveillance.
- Tennessee, Michigan, and Utah – Consent is required when installing surveillance cameras in places that would be considered private, for example, a camera that could see through a neighbor’s window.
Federal laws state that you can use a doorbell camera in a public area with no expectation of privacy, for example, driveways and public roads.
The recording of audio footage is also legal if one or more party in the conversation has provided consent. For example, it would be totally above board if you were to have a conversation with a delivery driver outside your home because you would have provided the consent for the recording.
If, however, the conversation between two other parties were to take place on your doorstep, there would be grounds for legal inquiry.
Are Ring Doorbells Legal in the United Kingdom?
Generally speaking, smart doorbells are legal in the UK, providing you abide by specific rules when using them.
When installing a smart doorbell camera, you should inform your neighbors if their property lies within the surveillance zone. If possible, be considerate to your neighbors by ensuring the cameras do not point directly at their property.
The camera should also not turn on every time your neighbor enters or exits their property.
It would be best if you didn’t position the camera too close to the neighboring property to avoid picking up their audio.
The purpose of a Ring doorbell is to identify and detect visitors to your property, not to capture your neighbor coming home from work or having a conversation in their garden. You should always position the device appropriately to avoid being hit by any legal disputes.
You could also put up signs warning people there are surveillance cameras being used on your property to make them aware they are being recorded if they come to your door.
Ring Doorbell Invasion of Privacy Case
In Oxfordshire in 2021, there was a legal dispute between two neighbors, Mary Fairhurst and Jon Woodard, concerning the invasion of Fairhurst’s privacy due to Woodard’s Ring Doorbell camera.
Unbeknown to Fairhurst, Woodard had installed an external surveillance camera that overlooked the whole of her garden and driveway.
On discovering the camera, Fairhurst disputed that it was a serious breach of her privacy, and she took Woodard to court over it.
The judge ruled that the camera footage ‘unjustifiably invaded’ Fairhurst’s privacy and breached the UK Data Protection Act and UK GDPR.
The court ordered Woodard to remove any cameras that could capture footage outside of his property boundary, and they also faced him with a hefty fine for his actions.
Ring Doorbell GDPR
The UK Data Protection Act and the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) set out the fundamental principles for processing individual personal data, including camera surveillance.
When installing a doorbell camera device, you must respect your neighbors’ privacy and abide by the relevant laws in your area. Failing to do so could put you at risk of legal action.
The use of surveillance cameras, such as a Ring Doorbell or other smart doorbell devices, is only exempt from GDPR stipulations if they capture footage within your property boundaries.
Any footage, whether audio or video, captured outside of your legal boundaries is likely to be breaching GDPR laws.
For example, you are violating the rules if you’ve installed a doorbell camera that can see your neighbors’ car registration, and they are either unaware or have not provided consent.
Similarly, you are also breaking GDPR rules if your camera’s microphone picks up conversations or audio outside of your property’s boundary and they’ve not given consent for you to store the footage.
To avoid any legal disputes concerning your neighbor’s GDPR rights, position your doorbell where it can’t pick up video or audio footage of their home, garden, or private property.
You can also utilize the Customisable Motion Detection Zones function on your Ring Doorbell to define the areas you want the camera to pick up sound and movement.
Selecting motion zones limited to your property’s boundary will avoid any risk of legal dispute from neighbors who claim the cameras infringe on GDPR.
Do You Need Permission for a Ring Doorbell?
Do You Need Permission for a Ring Doorbell in the United States?
In the US, fifteen states have specific laws on domestic security cameras, which we outlined previously in this article.
Federal law states that you can record the audio of conversations, providing at least one party has given consent. If your doorbell camera can pick up sounds and conversations within your neighbor’s property boundary, you’ll need to seek permission from them.
Do You Need Permission for a Ring Doorbell in the United Kingdom?
In the UK, you do not need to get permission from your neighbors when installing a Ring Doorbell, providing the camera doesn’t record their private property.
However, suppose the camera can pick up footage outside a neighbor’s front door, garden, or private pathway; you are breaching their privacy rights, so you will need to seek permission from the relevant parties.
You can alter motion detection zones so the camera will only begin recording when it picks up movement within your own property’s boundary.
Ensuring you install the doorbell in a position where it doesn’t look onto your neighbor’s property and can’t pick up their audio is best to avoid disputes over privacy laws.
Ring Doorbells – Other Potential Legal/Privacy Concerns
Do Ring Doorbells Record Sound?
While Ring Doorbells provide you with the reassurance you need when it comes to the safety and security of your home, you also don’t want to compromise your privacy at the same time.
Like most smart doorbells, the Ring Doorbell’s camera does record audio and video.
Most smart doorbells have a built-in microphone which allows you to communicate with your visitors via the Ring app on your smartphone.
Ring Doorbells can pick up sound up to 30 feet away, meaning the device may also record nearby sounds and conversations that you may not be affiliated with.
While these smart home devices can pick up sound, this does not mean they are constantly recording the audio.
The camera and microphone on a Ring Doorbell will activate when one of the following things occurs:
- Motion Detector – When the sensors detect any movement within the specified motion zone.
- Doorbell Activation – The camera and microphone on a Ring Doorbell will begin recording when someone rings it.
- Live View – You can access the ‘Live View’ function via the Ring app, which allows you to hear and see the live footage via your doorbell’s camera feed.
Ring Doorbells will only record and save the video and audio footage if you have subscribed to the Ring Protect Plan. If you haven’t purchased one of these plans, any audio and video footage can only be heard/seen during live view.
Can Neighbors Complain About a Ring Doorbell?
Neighbors could have the right to complain about your Ring Doorbell if it doesn’t comply with the applicable privacy laws.
If your doorbell camera can pick up on your neighbors’ conversations and see their daily movements, they will likely complain as soon as they find out.
The best way to avoid any complaints and keep neighborly relations civil is to do the following:
- Tell your immediate neighbors you are going to install a smart home doorbell.
- Make sure the camera isn’t pointing directly onto their property and amend the motion detection zones, so it doesn’t pick up movement on their property or land.
- Put a sticker on your door or window informing visitors that a Ring surveillance camera monitors your property.
Avoid getting involved in a case similar to the Ring doorbell invasion of privacy case from the United Kingdom (as discussed here) by respecting your neighbors’ privacy and following the relevant privacy laws in your area.
If you’re worried about neighbors complaining that your doorbell can record their conversations, you could disable audio recording altogether via the Ring app by following the steps below:
- Open the Ring app and tap the three lines on the top left of the screen.
- Select ‘Devices’ and pick the Ring Doorbell.
- Tap ‘Device Settings’ followed by ‘Privacy Settings’.
- Select the ‘Audio Streaming and Recording’ toggle to ‘Off’.
Ring Doorbell Privacy Zones
By setting up Ring Doorbell privacy zones, you can quickly black out certain areas within the camera’s field of view that you want to hide.
This feature is handy if you wish to avoid legal disputes with neighbors who believe your security camera has breached their privacy.
The Ring camera will not record anything that falls within the privacy zone, and it, therefore, will not display on the Ring app footage, nor can it be recovered.
For example, if you wish to block out your neighbor’s front door, you can set up a privacy zone that covers that specific area.
You can create up to two privacy zones per camera, and each one must be a rectangle that is at least 15% of the total screen area.
Setting up privacy zones and customizing the motion detection zones is the best way to avoid invading your neighbors’ privacy and stay clear of any legal disputes.
Despite their inherent security benefits, a Ring Doorbell can cause issues if it invades the privacy of your neighbors.
It’s worth mentioning that doorbell cameras are legal in the United States and the United Kingdom, but there are specific rules by which you need to abide.
When installing an intelligent doorbell camera, it’s worth informing your neighbors if their property lies within the surveillance zone. Try to be as considerate as possible by ensuring your Ring doorbell’s camera does not point directly at their property or, at the very least, use the doorbell’s privacy zones to avoid any privacy concerns.
Specific legal rulings exist concluding that a Ring doorbell has breached a neighbor’s privacy, and these cases are likely to become more frequent given the growing popularity of smart doorbells.
Thankfully, it’s possible to alleviate most privacy concerns by adjusting the privacy settings on your Ring doorbell and informing your neighbors in advance of installation. If you have any further questions or concerns, we’d recommend seeking professional legal advice relevant to your country or location.
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