Smart doorbells, best known for seeing if its your friend at the door, or if its the pizza delivery driver, have long been an established part of the slowly developing smart home environment. Yet, what is newer, is the seriousness that law enforcement are using when taking them as evidence for prosecuting crime!
Indeed, Essex Police in the UK used such doorbell footage of an intruder wielding a three foot sword tries to smash his way into a family home to charge and fine the perpetrator for his actions.
This successful conviction and others are fuelling a new home protection trend that has seen thousands turn to the smart doorbell camera devices. One incident involving a smart doorbell deterring a break-in in the US inspired a woman to create YouTube channel Doorbell News, which curates security footage caught by video doorbells across the US. Since its launch in 2017, its videos have been viewed 397 million times.
Currently, more than one in five households in the UK have a video doorbell. In addition to video, these doorbells often include a sound feed and proximity sensors that send instant notification to users’ phone via an app so they can monitor who is outside their property. The video recording is then typically stored on a cloud computer for a month, subscription permitted. Although the doorbell connects to a property’s Wi-Fi, the app allows users to be view the feed, and in some cases talk through the doorbell, regardless of where they are.
It is for reasons like this that Donna Jones, Police and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire Police, has said this technology’s power in preventing and prosecuting crime ‘endless’.
Indeed, some companies pushing for IoT and smart home features to be greater integrated into the insurance believe devices like smart doorbells could be used to help reduce premiums for consumers and better inform insurers of the risk. Yet there is a school of thought that the devices may not actually deter crime.
A 2021 report from the Centre For Research And Evidence On Security Threats determined that there was unlikely to be any significant effect on residential burglary through deploying smart home technology. Yet, the report inferred that presence of such tech could suggest to potential criminals that the property is worth targeting. Additionally, complaints of law enforcement not being properly set up to accept doorbell evidence submissions is pervasive.
Yet some UK police forces have begun to proactively train staff in how to abstract the data from them, with the National College of Policing implementing a Operation Modify training module on how best to use the footage captured by the doorbell cameras to secure convictions. Indeed, a landmark case saw a doorbell footage used as a key piece of evidence in a murder trial, when a former soldier was captured on doorbell camera he climbing into his neighbours house and murdering a married couple. The jury were shown footage recorded on a Ring doorbell camera in May 2021 which led to a conviction.
As with almost all things, with positives, comes negatives. Doorbells with cameras and microphones risk breaking data protection laws, as can even record video and sound outside the boundary of the property, which becomes a problem if it breaches a neighbour’s privacy. In the same vein of privacy, some of the data Ring and Nest have handed over to police has been without first getting permission from the homeowner. Equally, the Amazon Ring – which is the best seller in the sector – had an issue where security researchers discovered that hackers might be able to access video recordings from the app.
Yet, despite the issues, it’s estimated around 11.7 million video doorbells were sold around the world in 2021, up 63% from 2020. So whether or not they are increasing security or not, the fact is, smart doorbells are increasing.