Compliance Management, Network Security, Privacy

San Francisco agency wants warrantless data from connected car crashes

The city of San Francisco wants to gain immediate warrantless access to autonomous vehicle (AV) technology, data and/or video recording in the event of an accident, according a letter to the Department of Motor Vehicles from San Francisco County Transportation Authority Executive Director Tilly Chang.

Chang wrote that there must be “maximum transparency” from companies that wish to deploy autonomous vehicles, adding that these vehicles must be able to navigate pedestrians, buses, cable cars, bicyclists, and trucks.

Chang also requested that a remote operator be immediately available to engage in post-accident collision conversations with local law enforcement, a live person must be available 24/7 to provide technical assistance to law enforcement if needed for investigations, and that the owner/manufacturer shall release the local jurisdiction from any liability if the local jurisdiction needs to move the vehicle to clear the roadway.

“We believe that the proposed regulations, in part, rely too heavily on the AV manufacturers' self-certification of safety of technology, and in those cases we suggest strengthening validation requirements and adding safety benchmarks that the technology used must meet,” Chang said. “Furthermore, it is critical that trust in the private sector be paired with maximum transparency, particularly when it comes to safety and collisions.”

She said her agency wants to ensure that autonomous vehicles (AVs) in San Francisco complement the city's efforts, rather than work against them and that proposed regulations, in part, rely too heavily on the AV manufacturers' self-certification of safety of technology.

Privacy advocates and security researchers alike have criticized the request as being poorly thought out and some have went as far as to call it a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Rubicon Labs Vice President of Product Rod Schultz told SC Media the agency's demands are not surprising given the hundreds of millions of dollars in operating budget that is at risk.

“Urban transportation systems across the US have a new opponent in self driving cars, and they must innovate to survive,” Schultz said. “San Francisco's request of immediate data and recordings of a collision by one of their transportation competitors is a foolish roadblock that will buy them very little time.”

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Staff Attorney Jamie L. Williams said the request would violate the Fourth Amendment and called it an excuse to get the city out of doing its job.

“Their rationale is purely for efficiency,” Williams said. “They claim they need warrantless access due to ‘limited law enforcement resources,' but efficiency is not and has never been a valid Fourth Amendment exception.”

While there are currently existing exceptions to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement Williams said in all other cases a warrant should be required that what the city is proposing is unacceptable.

“The information collected by the data and video recorders in autonomous vehicles will include highly sensitive personal information, like location information and location history,” Williams said. “The sensitive nature of the information lends in favor of higher protection, not less.”

Other experts agreed. NordVPN Chief Management Officer Marty P. Kamden said the privacy and security concerns arising from government surveillance are always troubling.

“Surveillance of Smart Cars is not that different than that of mobile devices,” Kamden said. “Collected data can always be stolen, hacked into and people's information might get used against them.”

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