Calls for legislative change to limit citizen vehicle data collection and use in Australia

The National Transport Commission has asked for a reform, requiring states and territories to agree to broad principles on limiting government collection, use, and disclosure of automated vehicle data.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

As part of its regulatory reform work aimed at preparing Australia for automated vehicles, the National Transport Commission (NTC) has been probing the level of access to vehicle data government should be granted.

It is assessing whether Australia's current information access framework, when applied to government collection and use of information, is sufficient to protect privacy given the significant developments in transport technology.

"In particular, we need to consider the existing regulations in light of the types and amount of information that future transport systems could produce," the NTC said.

In its Policy Paper titled Regulating government access to C-ITS and automated vehicle data [PDF], the NTC focuses on two areas that form a limited part of intelligent transport systems (ITS): Cooperative ITS (C-ITS) and automated vehicles.

C-ITS data is produced as a result of vehicles, roads, and infrastructure communicating and sharing real-time information, such as information on vehicle movements, traffic signs, and road conditions, through C-ITS devices.

Such communications can produce data on vehicle speed, location, or direction, as some examples.

"C-ITS and automated vehicle technology offer the possibility of fundamentally changing how transport is provided and unlocking a range of safety, productivity, environmental, and mobility benefits," the NTC wrote in the paper.

"Data generated by these technologies has the potential to inform and enhance government decision making, but at the same time this technology raises potential new privacy challenges for individuals."

See also: IT leader's guide to the future of autonomous vehicles (Tech Pro Research)

The paper says that information generated by vehicle technology could inform and enhance government decision-making in areas such as law enforcement, automated vehicle safety, traffic management and road safety as part of network operations, infrastructure, and network planning as part of strategic planning.

However, the NTC is concerned that C-ITS technology may allow for more widespread direct collection of location information, as well as that captured from the likes of in-cabin cameras and biometric, biological, or health sensors, by government.

The NTC, following consultation, is concerned that the privacy challenges may not be sufficiently addressed under Australia's information access framework, saying surveillance device laws are unlikely to place practical restrictions on government collection of personal information.

"While privacy principles do not authorise the collection of personal information, they do not restrict (because they allow/permit) direct collection of personal information by government agencies if the information 'is necessary for one or more of its functions or activities'," the paper says. "This facilitates government's increased ability to directly collect C-ITS personal information."

It says law enforcement collection, use, and disclosure of C-ITS and automated vehicle data may result in increased opportunities for surveillance, and that there is inconsistency in the current information access frameworks for government agencies across states and territories.

See also: The 10 skills you need to land a job working on autonomous vehicles (TechRepublic)

As a result, the NTC has decided on its approach to ensuring C-ITS and automated vehicle data collection and use is handled in-line with privacy expectations, through reform.

It would require states and territories to agree to broad principles on limiting government collection, use, and disclosure of automated vehicle data.

"Because [this approach] agrees broad design principles, we consider it best addresses the identified challenges while ensuring that governments can appropriately use data from future vehicle technology to benefit the community," the paper says.

"These principles will help guide further development of the regulatory framework for C-ITS and automated vehicle technologies while providing a sufficient degree of flexibility as the technology develops."

According to the NTC, the laws and aligned standards for C-ITS and automated vehicles should: Balance the benefits of government access to the data with additional privacy protections to appropriately limit its collection, use, and disclosure; be consistent with, and informed by, existing and emerging Australian and international privacy and data access frameworks; and embed access powers and privacy protections in legislation.

They should also clearly define C-ITS and automated vehicle data in inclusive and technology neutral terms; align government entities' approach to managing vehicle data with those present in existing concepts of personal information; and specify the type of data covered, the purposes for which the data can be used, and the parties to whom the purpose limitations apply while not impeding access to data with a warrant or court order authorising a different use.

Motor accident injury insurance and automated vehicles

The NTC is also working through the process of identifying barriers to accessing compensation, under current motor accident injury insurance (MAII) schemes, for personal injuries and deaths caused by an automated driving system (ADS).

In its Policy Paper titled Motor accident injury insurance and automated vehicles [PDF], also released this week, the NTC said its review focused on high-level reform that enables people injured or killed to access care, treatment, benefits, and compensation when involved in an automated vehicle crash.

"The introduction of automated vehicles on Australian roads are anticipated to improve road safety. However, they will not eliminate all existing risks, and they are likely to introduce new risks," the paper says.

"Crashes involving and caused by automated vehicles will happen. Efficient legal pathways that provide certainty and consistency in resolving liability for personal injury that results from crashes is an important part of Australia's goal to support the safe commercial deployment of automated vehicles."

See also: How autonomous vehicles could co-exist with traditional cars in the near future (TechRepublic)

The policies have been shaped following recommendations made after the NTC analysed feedback received via 25 submissions, and government and insurance industry stakeholder consultation.

Of the four recommendations, three have been agreed to by the NTC, and one marked as "noted", which requires action from the minister responsible in each state and territory.

The first recommendation to form policy is a national approach for motor accident injury insurance and automated vehicles. It requires all jurisdictions to review their mechanisms for motor accident injury insurers to recover from parties at fault for injuries and deaths caused by automated driving systems.

The same recommendation will see motor accident injury insurance schemes required to provide access for injuries and deaths caused when ADS are engaged, while ensuring that schemes can efficiently claim from parties at-fault.

Under this, the NTC said further is required to consider data access for insurers to assess liability.

States and territories will also be required to review their ADS compensation laws every two years.

"Crashes involving automated vehicles will occur, and when they do, it is important to ensure there is a clear and efficient legal pathway to resolve liability for injuries that result," the paper says.

The next step is to shape the Australia-wide approach to ADS insurance.


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