Seizure of Ring Doorbell footage covering communal area

10 May 2021

Not reviewed after the date of publication

Question: 

An ABH offence takes place in the communal area of a block of flats. One of the doors of the flats overlooking the communal area where the assault occurred has a Ring Doorbell. The occupant has been spoken to but has declined to assist Police by providing footage.

What powers do we have to secure the footage; will a section 8 PACE warrant be required?

Answer:

Without a warrant, the main powers of seizure of evidence are section 19 of PACE and the common law power of seizure.

Section 19 of PACE provides a power for a constable who is lawfully on any premises to seize anything that it is evidence in relation to an offence which he is investigating or any other offence; and it is necessary to seize it in order to prevent the evidence being concealed, lost, altered or destroyed. Although it may be possible to establish that the officer was lawfully on the communal premises, for example, a resident had allowed the officer into the communal areas of the flats, we are of the opinion that they would have to be lawfully on the individual premises to which the doorbell was assigned to, to be able to use the power provided in section 19 to seize the doorbell footage any evidence in the possession of the occupant.

Common law powers of seizure would not be applicable in the circumstances you provide as the officer must have reasonable grounds to believe that the person they are seizing property from is implicated in the offence - please see the case of Ghani v Jones (1969).

In practice, the footage on a ring doorbell is not stored on the doorbell itself but remotely. The owner of the doorbell may however have access to the footage on their mobile phone if they have chosen to have such footage stored as part of their contract. If footage is stored in such a way with the occupant then, we would agree that in these specific circumstances, the option available to secure the footage and to ensure that the evidence gained is admissible at court, would be to obtain a warrant under section 8 of PACE. The case of Cabot Global Ltd and others v Barkingside Magistrates Court and others 2015 held that it was permissible to order the seizure of electronic storage devices or their contents under a section 8 warrant without having invoked sections 19 or 20 of PACE or section 50 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 Act

If the owner of the ring doorbell has not subscribed to saving the footage as part of their contract then, even if the owner of the doorbell wanted to assist they may not be able to. In such a case, we would be of the opinion that Data Protection request could be made to the company for the footage if it is held with them.

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