Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Smart Doorbell Surveillance: How can legitimate surveillance protect the right of citizens to privacy?

  Anjela Mikhaylova (2022 cohort)


This research explores significant ethical and societal challenges associated with surveillance systems, particularly those that draw upon big data analytics and the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for surveillance purposes. It focuses on the potentialities of a surveillance-centred future that involves extensive data collection, processing it to discover patterns, and acting upon such patterns to control and manipulate people's behaviour.

The main argument of this research is that legitimate surveillance may become societal control with implications for democratic principles and generate socioeconomic inequality in society.


The deployment of smart video doorbells for surveillance purposes is becoming an increasingly widespread practice. The proliferation of these technologies raises privacy concerns, owing to the potential for these devices to establish a "sweeping surveillance nexus," making it impossible for people to move and speak freely around their neighbourhoods and communities without the fear of being tracked (Walsh, 2022).

The capacity of smart doorbell technology to collect data on people's everyday interactions, as well as the inherent potential of processing personal data to personalise and profile individuals, both increase the likelihood of personal information being misused, whether unintentionally or deliberately. All of these unintended consequences are highly undesirable (Beckwith 2003).

Research questions

The central question that this project asks is: How can legitimate surveillance for the purposes of safety and security also protect the rights of citizens to privacy?

Questions that are then consequently asked are:

  • When does legitimate surveillance become societal control with implications for democratic principles?
  • What impact will future surveillance technologies have on society and individuals?

Aims and Objectives

The primary goal of this research is to: (1) identify critical factors of deploying smart video doorbells for surveillance purposes; and (2) explore the potential for smart doorbells to define us, undermine our privacy, and demarcate our freedom as a way to inform policy-makers, decision-makers, stakeholders, and the industry of the dangers of these possibilities.

The objectives include constructing and analysing a set of forecasting scenarios that depict a variety of possible futures, irrespective of how desirable they might be, and highlighting the risks to privacy and security posed by smart doorbell surveillance technology.


Due to the fact that "privacy and ethics are person-dependent, culture-dependent, and situation-dependent" (Wright et al., 2005, p. 122), addressing the privacy concerns raised by smart doorbells requires a multi-disciplinary strategy. Therefore, the research adopts the SWAMI ("Safeguards in a World of Ambient Intelligence") scenario methodology (Wright et al., 2008).

The process of developing scenario stories includes literature review, expert and internal workshops, “technology and reality check” of the smart doorbell technology.  The SWAMI interdisciplinary approach incorporates aspects of a variety of fields, such as computer science, law, and ethics. This framework has the objective of addressing and mitigating potential ethical and technological risks by offering a mechanism to inform policy-makers, project managers, planners, and other stakeholders, including those in the industry sector, of the possibilities and dangers outlined in the scenarios.

This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (UKRI Grant No. EP/S023305/1).