Canada’s privacy commissioner shares his view on autonomous vehicles

Daniel Therrien said there needs to be a balance between information flow and privacy protection

Waymo self driving car

Canada’s privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien presented his views on the privacy implications of autonomous and connected vehicles at a House of Commons transportation committee meeting on May 9th.

Therrien appeared before the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities (TRAN), in response to a study that was released in January of this year.

The study pointed to five key areas to help the government better prepare for a self-driving car-filled future.

Among these was a recommendation that the “government should put forward legislation to empower the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to proactively investigate and enforce industry compliance with privacy legislation.”

Therrien began by mentioning that modern vehicles can be likened to “smartphones on wheels,” suggesting that users will need to start becoming aware of what data these vehicles gather about drivers and passengers.

“This information is not strictly about the car; it can be associated with the car’s driver and occupants, and used to expose patterns or make inferences about those people for a number of purposes not all related to the functioning of the vehicle or safe transportation,” said Therrien.

The Commissioner also expressed concern with the fact that data flows in connected vehicles are very complex and, as a result of this fact, are not transparent.

Therrien did mention that the arrival of autonomous cars will have many benefits for Canadians but he worried that Canadians won’t trust these cars until the “appropriate balance is reached between information flow and privacy protection.”

He touched on how his office has been looking to improve consent for users data by trying to find ways to give “individuals the ability to make decisions about their data.”

Although Therrien did say that this hasn’t been happening since, “organizations still need to do a better job of explaining what they propose to do with the personal information they collect.”

Therrien said that “industry code of practice, privacy by design and strong organizational accountability” will help connected car manufacturers better respect Canadians privacy rights.

Ideally, Therrien would like to see an amendment to the law that would allow the privacy office to “independently confirm that the principles in our privacy laws are being respected – without necessarily suspecting a violation of the law.”

Source: The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada