Tesla has implemented a number of safety improvements for its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving suites over the years, and this includes updates to its driver monitoring systems (DMS). Last year, Tesla activated its camera-based driver monitoring system in Model 3 and Model Y vehicles, allowing the company to provide an extra layer of checks to determine if drivers were paying attention to the road while using Autopilot and FSD features. The function was later rolled out to the refreshed Model S and Model X as well.
While a camera-based DMS has evident advantages, a class action complaint has been proposed against Tesla in Illinois, with the Plaintiff claiming that the company’s in-cabin driver monitoring system violates the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). The complaint was filed in an Illinois Circuit Court on March 11, 2022.
In the complaint’s introduction, the Plaintiff described how Tesla benefits from the data it collects from its fleet of vehicles. Following is a relevant section from the document.
“In an effort to facilitate its Autopilot features and help market its self-driving capability to boost sales, Defendant collects individuals’ biometrics in the form of their facial geometry so that it can verify and make sure that individuals are paying attention to the road while using its Autopilot advanced driver assistance system (“Autopilot”) and its premium Full Self Driving system (“FSD”).
“This is achieved through Tesla’s in-cabin camera located by the rearview mirror which extracts drivers’ biometric facial geometry that Defendant’s Autopilot uses to track their head positions and eye gazes to detect a driver’s inattentiveness. If the driver is inattentive, then the Autopilot function is disengaged and the driver must take over the steering function.”
Inasmuch as data from the in-cabin camera is being used for driver monitoring, the Plaintiff alleged that Tesla’s practices violate Illinois citizens’ statutorily protected privacy rights. This was discussed in the following section of the complaint.
“Facial geometry is a unique and permanent biometric identifier associated with each individual. The unauthorized handling of such sensitive information exposes consumers to serious and irreversible privacy risks. If for example, a database containing scans of face geometry or other sensitive biometric data is hacked, breached, or otherwise exposed, consumers cannot simply change their biometric identifiers like they could reset a password or cancel a credit card.
“Notwithstanding the clear and unequivocal requirements of the law, Defendant disregards Illinois citizens’ statutorily protected privacy rights and unlawfully collects, stores, and uses individuals’ biometrics without first obtaining those individuals’ informed written consent and without having any publicly available data retention policy that could inform them about the whereabouts of the facial biometric data Defendant gatherer as required by BIPA.”
Interestingly enough, the Plaintiff included an anecdote of Tesla’s camera-based DMS in action. Based on the incident outlined in the complaint, it appears that the Plaintiff was warned by his vehicle to keep his hands on the wheel. This is a critical safety check, especially as Tesla rolls out more advanced features of its Autopilot and FSD suite.
“In or about December 2021, Plaintiff was driving one of Defendant’s Model 3 cars in Illinois with Defendant’s Autopilot feature function engaged. Using its proprietary facial recognition technology, Defendant collected, stored, and analyzed Plaintiff’s facial geometry in order to be able to track his head and eye movements and make sure that he was attentive. Plaintiff experienced Defendant’s biometrically enabled technology first-hand as it continuously informed Plaintiff to put his hands back on the wheel whenever it detected him looking away from the road.”
The class action complaint seeks to collect statutory damages of $5,000 for every time Tesla willfully or recklessly violated Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act. It also seeks to collect statutory damages of $1,000 for each negligent violation of the state’s BIPA. Tesla’s legal team, for its part, is yet to issue a response to the complaint.
Below is the class action complaint against Tesla’s camera-based driver monitoring system (as shared by Bloomberg Law).
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