​Transport Commission concerned over government access to citizen vehicle data

The National Transport Commission is probing whether current privacy and information access frameworks are going to be adequate when automated vehicles take to Australian streets.

The National Transport Commission (NTC) is concerned that Australia's existing privacy and information access frameworks might not be sufficient in addressing the new privacy challenges automated vehicles are expected to bring.

The NTC, as part of a broader program of work on national automated vehicle reform, on Thursday published a discussion paper [PDF] considering specifically data recording and sharing obligations on automated driving system entities, as well as the power for governments to access data, including for law enforcement purposes, that has come from cooperative intelligent transport system (C-ITS).

C-ITS data is produced as a result of vehicles, roads, and infrastructure communating 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.

The NTC in its Regulating Government Access to C-ITS and Automated Vehicle Data: Discussion Paper, asks specifically whether additional privacy protections for government collection and use of information generated by C-ITS and automated vehicle technology are needed.

Highlighting three categories of potential new privacy challenges of C-ITS and automated vehicle technology, the NTC is mainly 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 considers that data produced by C-ITS and automated vehicle technology will most likely be personal information and sensitive information, especially when held by road agencies and law enforcement agencies," the NTC wrote. "Such agencies are likely to have access to a wide range of data, and the technical capacity to analyse that data, which could aid identifiability."

Citing mainly concerns over citizen surveillance, the NTC said that 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 report explains.

"This facilitates government's increased ability to directly collect C-ITS personal information.

"Law enforcement collection, use and disclosure of C-ITS and automated vehicle data may result in increased surveillance opportunities."

The report also highlights that road transport laws contain provisions to facilitate information sharing between road agencies and police.

"Requirements to destroy or de-identify personal information may not in practice greatly reduce the amount of personal information held by government," the NTC said.

Making recommendations on three different ways to tackle the privacy concerns, the NTC explains that option one is to rely on the existing information access framework to address the new privacy challenges of C-ITS technology, with another to perhaps limit government collection, use, and disclosure of all C-ITS information to specific parties and purposes.

Another option, and the preferred one by the commission, is to agree on broad principles that limit government collection, use, and disclosure of C-ITS information.

"This approach would help guide further development of the regulatory framework for C-ITS and automated vehicle technologies, whilst providing a sufficient degree of flexibility as the technology develops," it said.

Submissions for the latest discussion paper close on November 22, 2018.

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