When a new technology grows in popularity, we inevitably get media enquiries on its possible impact on privacy. Last year, it was drones and so far this year, there has been a fair amount of interest in car dashboard cameras or dash cams.
Helpfully, the Privacy Act is a technology neutral piece of legislation. In other words, it gives us the basic principles by which we can make an assessment on the privacy implications of any emerging technology. You can find out more about the Act’s 12 information privacy principles here.
The Privacy Act is all about the collection, use, storage and disclosure of personal information. Personal information is defined in the Act as information about an "identifiable individual".
When a new way of recording and sharing information arrives and grows in popularity, we usually explain that we have to look at what information is being collected and how this information is likely to be shared or disclosed. If it is not information about an identifiable individual, it falls outside the ambit of the Privacy Act.
This, by and large, is the case with dash cams. Dashboard cameras capture images of travel and vehicles in public places. They do not usually capture clear images of other drivers by which they can be readily identified. But with a dash cam you are going to be collecting a lot of ‘background footage’. This background footage is likely to be made up in part of some personal information.
Dash cams will capture car number plates, and while it is no longer the case that owner details are readily available through the Motor Vehicle Register to all members of the public, there is a process where a person can access the ownership information of another car.
The process requires a person to make a request to NZTA for the name and address of a car owner. The agency then considers this against the criteria contained in the Official Information Act. It requires the NZTA to weigh up the public interest in releasing the information sought against the privacy rights of the individual concerned.
The NZTA website says public interest usually means for the common good or general welfare. Each case is determined on its own merits. A request for a registered person's name and address is made by making an online application. A fee of $15 is payable. This at least restricts the ability to access another car owner’s details.
Our advice to people wanting to upload video taken by dash cam (and this also applies to CCTV and drone footage) is to consider carefully why you might need to do this. If there is a compelling reason, you also need to think about how to edit out or mask the number plates of other cars, or images of passers-by.
If you see examples of dangerous or bad driving, uploading the footage to YouTube is not necessarily the best way of drawing attention to it. A more effective option might be to give the footage to Police.
There are good reasons why a driver might want to have dash cam. They can be useful in collecting evidence when traffic accidents happen and to resolve insurance disputes. They can also be used to report bad and dangerous drivers and they can identify misuse, such as in the case of the Auckland valet driver.
But people need to be responsible in how they use the information that dash cams collect and to think carefully about posting footage online for everyone else to see.