Monitoring drivers’ habits to establish usage-based premiums is a growing market in Canada, but the practice is raising suspicion and concern among auto associations.
According to a report by CBC News, the Canadian Automobile Association and the Automobile Protection Association are requesting for clarification of rules on how data is obtained and used by police, car manufacturers, and insurance companies.
Since the early 2000s, most vehicles are equipped with telematics, or event data recorders that discreetly record everything, such as braking, speed, steering behaviour, and whether a seatbelt is buckled.
Although these devices were initially made to improve safety and performance, these are now usually used by police to reconstruct accident situations and for insurers to determine liability.
With the large amount and constancy of data collected, it’s not unusual that some people are suspicious about what the data is used for and concerned with their privacy.
"There are significant privacy concerns. First of all, your car is basically monitoring itself and to some degree monitoring your behaviour but you don't know it unless you are told," said George Iny, director of the Automobile Protection Association, a non-profit group dedicated to promoting consumer interests.
Iny argued that restrictions must be imposed on data collection devices. Many car manufacturers tell customers about the monitoring devices included in the vehicle, but the notices are usually buried at the back of user manuals.
There are also issues whether police need a warrant in order to access private vehicle data.
"The question is do we need a warrant — to be quite honest, right now in Canada there's case law for both perspectives," said Const. Shawn Flynn of the Halifax Regional Police.
Flynn argued that the information gathered reflects what happens in public on a road, so there’s a different expectation of privacy. An eyewitness on the sidewalk will see the same information that’s on the module, he added.
Wayne MacKay, law professor at Dalhousie University's Schulich School of Law, on the other hand, argued that police should need a search warrant to access the recorder's data, as the technical information there bears more weight in court. These devices may even constitute a violation of privacy, as owners may not have consented to the device’s presence.