Passenger Privacy vs Driver Interests

Taxis and private-hire car drivers emerged victorious against fare evaders and abusive passengers with the new rules which allow drivers to use inward-facing video cameras. 

The news rules, which were put into effect as of Monday 9th April, clarify the use of such cameras against the privacy laws in place.

These new rules have been met with some backlash from passengers, who feared that their privacy and safety would be compromised.

Some concerns brought up by passengers include the worry that the drivers may take videos of women and children for private use, and mothers' discomfort with nursing their babies in the taxi or car.

While the inward-facing camera may feel intrusive and potentially dangerous, there is an important reason behind this decision.

The National Taxi Association had been lobbying for the use of inward-facing video cameras in taxis since 2015 to tackle unruly passengers and fare cheats.

The cameras will provide a greater sense of security, especially for female drivers, and help resolve disputes.

The cameras will be installed in hopes that they will provide a greater sense of security, especially for female drivers, in addition to helping with resolving disputes.

The image or voice of a person constitutes personal data, and in 2016, Singapore's privacy watchdog, the Personal Data Protection Commission, started a series of closed-door consultations with taxi and private-hire driver associations, the Vehicle Rental Association, and taxi and car rental companies to address the use of such data. 

The privacy watchdog developed the guidelines after several months, while working closely with the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

LTA assured worried consumers that taxi and private-hire car drivers need to seek its approval before installing these inward-facing cameras. LTA requires safeguards to be in place. Additionally, transport service companies must abide by the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), which has been fully in force since July 2 2014.

For example, transport service providers must put in place sufficient security measures to protect consumers' personal data, or risk fines of up to $1 million under the PDPA. 

The new advisories also require transport service providers to display a notice about the use of inward-facing video cameras.

Drivers are not allowed to upload these videos on social media, but the videos can be used to assist with official investigations.

Passengers are able to request to view or to be given such recordings. The cost is borne by the transport company. However, if the company deems it too expensive to retrieve the recording, it can refute the request. 

According to the Public Transport Council, there were 240 cases of fare evasion in 2015, up from 68 in 2012. Given this situation, it is imperative that passengers understand the need for inward-facing cameras in taxis and private hire cars for the safety and protection of drivers. 

Moreover, the cameras would also be useful in catching fare evaders red-handed. This in turn would ensure the safety and stability of drivers' incomes.

Furthermore, passengers should understand that these cameras may also be important for their safety too. For example, if they get accosted by a fellow rider sharing the ride, or if the driver overcharges the trip without valid reason, passengers would be able to request to view the footage and even use it in court to prove charges against the offenders. In these instances, the inward-facing cameras are an advantage to passengers as well. 

Hence, passengers could try to appreciate that inward-facing cameras can prove to be beneficial to passengers as well. 

Besides, passengers who do not want to be recorded can choose not to use the transport service, as mentioned by Singapore's privacy watchdog in its advisory guidelines on in-vehicle recording by transport service providers.

In addition to that, given that taxis and private-hire cars have been asked to display prominent notices about their use of inward-facing video cameras, it is highly unlikely that passengers take a taxi or private-hire car and find themselves recorded without their knowledge. If that happens, then of course they should raise the issue to the relevant authorities to ensure the welfare of all drivers and passengers.


When all's said and done, the question lingers: Is it really necessary to use inward-facing cameras?

There are definitely benefits that come with using inward-facing cameras. Fare evaders and abusive passengers will definitely be caught and apprehended much more easily. Passengers abusing their co-riders would likewise be caught easily as well.

However, these people form a very small minority of our population, the large majority of whom are obedient, disciplined, fare-paying passengers. 

Is it really necessary to invade the privacy of the innocent just to catch offenders? Or are there other ways to tackle this problem?

In many instances in Singapore, enforcing harsher punishments on criminals has been found to deter potential lawbreakers. It could work in this instance with the  fare evaders and abusive passengers too.

Perhaps, there could be more CCTV cameras around the streets themselves, especially in those less-crowded, quieter streets. It might not be as clear as viewing the interior of the car, but any rule breaking could still be caught. For example, fare evaders might run out of the car before they get found out, and then they would be captured on CCTV cameras. 
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Other than that, a hotline could be opened specifically for drivers and co-riders to report abusive/fare evading passengers. Through this hotline, the process for reports to be made against such passengers would be greatly shortened, and help could be dispatched more quickly as well.

If technological advancements permit, there could even be an emergency help button placed in taxis and private-hire cars, where a signal is sent to the nearest police division/patrol in the vicinity about the situation. This way, they are immediately alerted to the situation and are able to respond as soon as possible too. 
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These are just a few solutions among many which could have been used to resolve this issue. 

Of course, there's nothing to say that inward-facing cameras in taxis and private-hire cars are the worst possible bet for resolving this issue. But it never hurts to consider the alternatives available which do not invade passengers' privacy.


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