Singapore cabs can film passengers, but not upload on social media

Some lawyers expressed concerns over the cameras’ impact on passengers’ privacy. — TODAY pic
Some lawyers expressed concerns over the cameras’ impact on passengers’ privacy. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, April 10 — Taxi and private-hire drivers have been given the green light to insist on the use of inward-facing video cameras to protect themselves against fare evaders and abusive passengers.

Passengers, who will be notified of the presence of such a camera through ways such as a booking confirmation or a “prominent notice” in the vehicle, will have to find another ride without such a device if they do not wish to be filmed.

Issuing new advisory guidelines yesterday, the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) said drivers are not to upload videos from inward-facing cameras on social media.

They would otherwise be flouting the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA).

The videos captured are for the sole purpose of assisting relevant authorities, including the transport company, in official investigations, and these should be explained in the notice put up by the driver, the commission said.

The move came after three years of lobbying by the National Taxi Association (NTA) to tackle fare evasion, resolve fare disputes and deter any form of unruly behaviour against drivers. Months of closed-door consultations were also conducted with taxi and car rental companies, the National Private Hire Vehicles Association (NPHVA) and the Vehicle Rental Association.

Member of Parliament Ang Hin Kee, who is executive adviser of both NTA and NPHVA, said recordings are instrumental to provide “a more objective way of determining what happened”.

They would aid investigations in cases where it is the driver’s word against the passenger’s and could also protect customers, he said.

“If private-hire or taxi driver knew that such a deterrent exists, they will also ensure that their service levels remain at a certain level,” said Mr Ang.

The inward-facing cameras could complement the national SGSecure movement and efforts of law enforcers, which have been boosted by the installation of cameras at void decks and lift landings of public housing blocks.

Several taxi operators told TODAY they are reviewing the new guidelines. None of the largest taxi operator ComfortDelGro’s cameras are “inward taping” at the moment. Its group corporate communications officer Tammy Tan said without elaborating that the company “will work with our drivers to best look after their interests”.

Electric-taxi operator HDT’s managing director James Ng said inward-facing cameras would be useful to “clarify any misunderstanding” between drivers and their passengers.

Expressing interest in adopting the cameras, he said the company would ensure it has a “stringent” set of standard operating procedures to gain commuters’ confidence.

Meanwhile, private-hire drivers are cheering the move. Some have taken to Facebook to organise a bulk purchase of the cameras.

Some lawyers expressed concerns over the cameras’ impact on passengers’ privacy.

The option for passengers to find another ride if they do not agree with the use of in-vehicle recording devices is “an illusory one”, said Bernard Chung of IRB Law.

“If you booked a ride from Grab and discovered that the ride features the use of (the device), are you likely to cancel the ride and try and book a ride from another company? And what if all companies use (them)?” he said.

To critics, the guidelines will affirm the “view that the PDPA was enacted for economic reasons and to support Singapore’s transformation into a data-driven economy, and not to protect any right to privacy”, Chung added.

But Ronald Wong of Covenant Chambers said the privacy watchdog is merely setting out guidelines for a practice that is already in place, making it clear to drivers how personal data laws apply to them.

“Without the guidelines, the drivers can just do so without being subject to all these regulations regarding the photography or videography of the passenger, so actually the guidelines help to set out certain safeguards or, at least, notices that must be given to the passenger so he or she can make informed choices,” he said.

The PDPC said transport service providers must make “reasonable security arrangements” to protect personal data captured by in-vehicle recording devices or risk paying up to S$1 million (RM2.95 million) in fines.

Passengers may also request for their recordings and ask how their personal data has or may have been used or disclosed by the organisation in the past year.

But the PDPC’s guidelines allow companies not to provide access if the request is frivolous or vexatious, or if the burden or expense of providing access would be unreasonable — such as if someone asks for all recordings of him in all taxis of an operator over a year, yet could not provide more specific information as to when he took the taxis. — TODAY

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