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Regulatory, Licensing

Dashcams raise privacy issues for car dealerships

Car dealerships should be aware of their responsibilities to customers when it comes to privacy, Toronto licensing and compliance lawyer Anar Dewshi tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Although Ontario is not one of the provinces with its own private sector privacy law, Dewshi, principal of Dewshi Law Practice, says that businesses are still covered by the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), which applies to personal information held by private sector organizations that are not federally regulated, and who engage in commercial, for-profit activities.

“Car dealerships who operate in Ontario engage in commercial activity — which is defined under PIPEDA as any particular transaction, act, or conduct, or any regular course of conduct that is of a commercial character — are subject to the PIPEDA,” she says. 

The CBC recently reported on the concerns of a man whose dashboard cameras were twice switched off while his car underwent work at a car dealership.

According to the story, a mechanic was shown on the footage noticing the cameras and then turning them off.

"Well, that kind of raises a flag," the car’s owner told the CBC. "Now I don't know what happened to my car for that time being. It's under their control now. They could do anything — they could speed off with it, they could have damages done to it. I don't know."

The man complained to the dealership, only to return for a second visit, following which he discovered an employee had not only turned off the cameras but had also deleted video files from the equipment.

"This is raising a concern with privacy because I have my family in my car and we have conversations,” the owner told the news outlet. “[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."

The Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC), the provincial regulator of car dealerships and salespersons in Ontario, provides guidance as to how these companies ought to handle personal information, the manner in which it is collected, and how it is used by businesses, and Dewshi says PIPEDA broadly defines personal information.

“It includes any factual or subjective information, whether recorded or not, about an identifiable individual,” she says, noting that it could include a person’s age, name, ID numbers, income, ethnic origin, opinions, evaluations, comments, and social status, among many other things.

As a result, there’s a strong argument to be made that PIPEDA applied in this instance, Dewshi says, noting there is a precedent of the privacy commissioner exercising jurisdiction over car dealerships.

She says there would likely have been no legal privacy issue had the mechanic stopped the recording without going any further, but that the action could still have serious ramifications for the business.

“Actions like this make a consumer question the business practices by the dealership and can jeopardize their reputation, integrity and transparency,” Dewshi says. 

Dealerships are entitled to have a policy for turning off recording devices while mechanics complete work on a vehicle, she adds. 

“However, the best practice is to ensure that the consumer is aware of this and the company obtains explicit consent from the vehicle's owner to turn off the recording,” Dewshi says. 

The deletion of files from the video equipment could cause issues for the dealership since the process of removing the footage would likely have required the mechanic to review the customer’s personal information, she says.

“There is no requirement under PIPEDA that the personal information must be recorded, so simply the act of watching the footage could be a violation,” Dewshi says.

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