The debate over privacy in a high-tech world is entering the service bay amid moves by the Alberta dealers’ association to address concerns about vehicle dashcams recording auto technicians on the job.
Last fall, the Motor Dealers Association of Alberta (MDA) issued an advisory urging its members to unplug or switch off dashcams in vehicles to prevent customers from spying on technicians servicing their cars.
“If a customer uses a camera in a vehicle, and they don’t advise the technician, they are in contravention of the law,” said Denis Ducharme, president of the Motor Dealers Association of Alberta. The MDA is the first dealers’ association in North America to take such action, Ducharme said, adding that he has been contacted by other associations in Canada and the United States seeking information on his organization’s experience.
Brenda McPhail, an expert in privacy legislation, applauded the MDA’s response to an issue that needs to be addressed by businesses. “This is relatively uncharted ground. It points to a need for businesses to develop their own policies.”
The MDA began looking into the issue last fall after it was contacted by an Edmonton dealership service department that wanted to know whether it was within its legal rights to turn off a dashcam in a customer’s vehicle.
After consulting with lawyers, Ducharme said, the MDA sent an advisory in September to its 350 members.
It states, in part: “Technically, Section 184 of the Criminal Code makes it an offence to record a private conversation (In other words, one that you are not part of) without the parties’ consent. However, in order to be guilty of that offence, the person recording the conversation needs to intend to make the recording of that specific conversation.”
The MDA urged dealers to add language to their work orders that states: “This company also reserves the right to disconnect any dash camera or recording device located on or inside the vehicle prior to service.”
Ducharme said he knows of at least one incident in which a technician in Alberta disconnected a dashcam while doing diagnostic work, and the customer complained.
Aftermarket dashcams plug into a car’s power outlet and attach to the dashboard or windshield. They retail for between $100 and $400, depending on the features, and often come with full app support, allowing the user to control the camera from a smartphone.
No agency tracks how many dashcams are sold in Canada, however, California-based analysis firm Grand View Research estimated that 6.5 million were sold in North America in 2017, and it expects the global dashcam market to hit US $1.8 billion by 2022.
The MDA’s advisory has received strong support from the Calgary Motor Dealers Association.
“We absolutely do not have to work on a car that comes in with a dashcam on,” said Jim Gillespie, the association’s director. “Technicians have a right to their privacy.”
At Glenmore Audi in Calgary, Service Manager Rick Lumsden implemented a video-recording-device policy on the advice of the dealership’s invoice supplier.
“We’ve never had an incident; very few cars we service have dashcams,” he said, adding the policy was added to invoices about three years ago.
In February 2019, the CBC reported that a customer of Parkview BMW in Toronto complained that a technician turned off his vehicle’s inwardand outward-pointing video cameras.
When the customer took his car in for service again, the technician turned off the cameras a second time and deleted the videos on the file, the CBC said.
“This is raising a concern with privacy because I have my family in my car and we have conversations,” Haider Firas, the customer, told the CBC. “[The employee] actually had to go through footage to find their own footage to delete, and this is a 100 per cent no-no, like you can’t access people’s private information to get rid of your own footage.”
Senior executives with Parkview BMW declined to speak with Automotive News Canada about the incident.
But McPhail, Torontobased director of the Privacy, Technology and Surveillance Project for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), said the move by the MDA is justified.
“Dealerships would not let customers stand in a shop and watch as someone works on their car. Why would we allow it virtually?
“We have to ask whether this reflects our Canadian values. In many ways, we are sleepwalking into a surveillance society.”
Some dealership groups have been advised to post signs in their service areas and add language to their work orders that dashcams will be switched off during service work.
“It’s no different than walking into a dealership with a camera,” Gillespie said. “In no other industry do you have a camera watching you.”
Jennifer Davidson, a lawyer who specializes in technology and intellectual-property law at Deeth Williams Wall in Toronto, said commercial enterprises are governed by the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). The federal privacy law sets out the ground rules for how businesses must handle personal information in the course of their commercial activity. Some provinces also have additional privacy legislation.
In the commercial context, a dealership has the right to determine whether a recording can take place on its property, and the technician has the right to consent to or refuse a dashcam recording, Davidson said. The onus is on the customers to inform the dealership at the time of booking that they want to record the work and give the dealership a chance to consent or object to the practice.
Acting on his own, a technician could get into “hot water” for refusing to service a vehicle with a live dashcam, so the easier solution is to simply turn off or unplug the device, Davidson said.
Beyond the right to privacy, she noted that a technician could be using a proprietary tool during service work. If that is captured on a dashcam, then the maker of the tool could lose its trade secret.
In the Parkview BMW case, Davidson said she only knew the details as reported by the CBC, but was concerned that the technician reportedly browsed the customer’s video files and deleted some.
By browsing the video files, it is possible the technician would be found to have invaded the customer’s privacy or even to have acted in a “willful and intentional destruction of property.”
SOME DEALERS INDIFFERENT
Dealers interviewed by Automotive News Canada had a variety of ways to deal with the issue.
Scott Forrest, service manager at Jack Carter ChevroletBuick-GMC in Calgary, said his dealership is concerned about the technician’s privacy and the nearby conversations that might be recorded.
“If we see [dashcams], we’ll just unplug them. However, “some [technicians] don’t even care.”
At Audi Midtown Toronto, Service Manager Angelo Christopoulos said the dealership has no problem with the recordings.
“We conduct ourselves with pride and are happy to let customers watch the work via dashcam.
“At the end of the day, we don’t touch them. It’s really not our place.”
In May 2019, Canadian Tire told Global News that a service technician in the Toronto area had been fired after a video showed what appeared to be an employee speeding in a customer’s BMW.
But McPhail of the CCLA said such incidents don’t justify unrestricted surveillance.