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In-vehicle camera privacy bill heads to California governor’s desk

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Market Trends
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A California bill that would make it mandatory for automakers to notify drivers when images are gathered by in-vehicle cameras is nearing approval after being passed by the state’s assembly this week.

Senate Bill 296 (SB296), introduced by Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa), would also prohibit images captured from being sold to third-parties or for advertising purposes. It’s now headed for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk to be signed into law.

“Many places we go these days we’re being recorded or surveilled with no idea how the images are being used,” Dodd said. “This breakdown of our privacy is now happening inside our own cars. My bill would prevent the unwanted taking of video by in-vehicle cameras and give the consumer more control over their personal information.”

Dodd noted how as camera technology has become more advanced recently — ranging from backup and blind spot systems to those that can detect distracting driving — and said images captured could be exploited by data brokers and others.

SB296 would aim to prevent that from happening by requiring manufacturers of new cars or trucks to disclose any in-vehicle cameras to buyers. 

It would also prohibit a dealer from selling or leasing a new car without first informing the buyer if the vehicle is equipped with cameras. On top of that, they would be required to give the buyer or person leasing a vehicle the right to review the owner’s manual or other documents to determine whether in-vehicle cameras could be present.

The bill would also prohibit any images or video recordings collected by the camera from:

    • Being used for advertising or sold to a third party;
    • Being altered by a manufacturer or another organization, at another person’s behest, to allow police or other investigators to monitor images; and
    • Being retained at any location other than the vehicle itself, or being downloaded or accessible to anyone other than the vehicle user without consent.

The exception to the last bullet is that the images and videos can still be accessed to diagnose, service, repair, or improve equipment during repairs or servicing.

Under provisions of the legislation, consumers would not have to take any measures to prevent their in-vehicle video recordings from being recorded without their permission or knowledge. The bill would not impact the use of cameras for traffic safety, either.

SB296 was approved Monday by the State Assembly and is headed to Newsom following a Senate concurrence vote. It was endorsed by the Consumer Federation of California.

“Consumers should know if their cars have inward facing cameras that may be recording them and their passengers, and auto companies should not be able to use these videos without a consumer’s clear consent,” said Robert Herrell, executive director of the Consumer Federation of California. “SB 296 would make California the first state in the country to give consumers meaningful control over these types of in-vehicle cameras.”

Recent research contained in the Mozilla Foundation’s latest edition of  *Privacy Not Included (*PNI) report found that a number of automakers can collect deeply personal data such as sexual activity, immigration status, race, facial expressions, health, and more from vehicles.

Mozilla researchers found data is gathered by sensors, microphones, cameras, and the phones and other devices drivers connect to their cars, as well as through car apps, company websites, dealerships, and vehicle telematics. Brands can then share or sell the data to third parties. Based on its research, Mozilla says OEMs may also use the data to develop inferences about a driver’s intelligence, abilities, characteristics, preferences, and more.

Earlier this year, a special report from Reuters described a potential privacy and business operations concern for the collision repair industry — video recordings by vehicles inside repair facilities being shared.

Between 2019 and 2022, groups of Tesla employees privately shared customer videos and images recorded by their cars via an internal messaging system, which were sometimes highly invasive, including one man approaching the vehicle naked, according to what nine former employees told Reuters. And they said the computer program used by Tesla shows the location of recordings.

SB296 is the latest in a string of initiatives California has undertaken to protect consumer privacy. Last month, the California Privacy Protection Agency launched a review of connected vehicle (CV) OEM data privacy practices.

Noting that CVs are equipped with features like location sharing, web-based entertainment, smartphone integrations, and cameras, CPPA said data privacy considerations are “critical” given the ability they have to collect information about occupants’ personal lives.

California is also among a number of states to pass comprehensive privacy laws. Its voters enacted personally identifiable information (PII) regulations through Proposition 24, known as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CPRA), in 2020 which began Jan. 1, 2023.


Main image: djedzura/iStock

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