Lawmakers send letter to CEO Elon Musk following recent reports of serious privacy violations 

Letter Text (PDF)

Washington (April 14, 2023) - Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, today sent a letter to Tesla CEO Elon Musk voicing serious concerns about violations of customer privacy following recent reports that Tesla employees have improperly shared private videos and photos captured by cameras in Tesla vehicles. In the letter, the senators demand Musk provide information about policies in place at Tesla to prevent the unauthorized collection and distribution of customer data and outline steps Tesla is taking to fix this invasion of privacy.

“Although vehicle cameras have the potential to improve safety, these features do not need to come at the expense of consumer privacy,” the senators wrote. “Tesla must take all necessary steps to protect consumer information and maintain strong privacy protections for its vehicle owners. […] This apparent willful disregard for the privacy of Tesla customers is unacceptable and raises serious questions about Tesla’s management practices.”

Senators Markey and Blumenthal requested written responses to the following questions by May 5, 2023:

  1. Please fully describe the purposes for which Tesla collects and retains vehicle recordings, how long those recordings are kept, and who has access to them.
  2. Does Tesla restrict access to these vehicle camera recordings to certain employees or contractors through policy and technical measures? If so, please describe in detail those restrictions.
  3. Why were Telsa’s policy and technical measures unable to prevent the wrongful sharing of vehicle recordings? Has Tesla investigated this misuse of highly invasive customer information?
  4. Were Tesla executives aware that their employees were sharing consumer vehicle recordings, including videos and images, on internal company messaging software prior to Reuters’ public reporting on this topic? 
    1. If so, for how long were the executives aware of this employee behavior and what steps did Tesla take to stop this employee behavior?
    2. If not, will Tesla commit to taking all necessary steps, including formal policy changes, to ensure that this breach of consumer privacy does not happen again?
  5. Are Tesla executives certain that Tesla employees no longer share vehicle camera recordings for unauthorized purposes?
  6. Tesla’s Customer Privacy Policy states that camera recordings “remain anonymous,” but the Reuters report suggests that a customer’s location could be easily deduced from those recordings, including tagging those videos on a map. Please describe the steps Tesla has taken to protect user anonymity.
    1. What steps is Tesla taking to ensure that the camera recordings are actually anonymous?
    2. Will Tesla commit to taking all necessary steps, including formal policy changes, to ensure that vehicle camera recordings do not identify the location of the Tesla customer?

Senators Markey and Blumenthal have long advocated for autonomous vehicle (AV) technology privacy and safety. In July 2019, Senators Markey and Blumenthal reintroduced the Security and Privacy in Your Car (SPY Car) Act, which directs the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to establish federal standards to ensure cybersecurity in increasingly computerized vehicles and to protect drivers’ privacy. In August 2021, Senators Markey and Blumenthal sent a letter to the FTC, calling for the agency to launch an investigation into Tesla’s advertising of driving automation systems. In February 2022, Senators Markey and Blumenthal sent a letter to Tesla co-Founder and CEO Elon Musk following numerous reports of dangerous braking flaws in Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving systems and amid several federal safety investigations, voicing serious concerns with the implementation of the company’s technology. In June 2022, Senators Markey and Blumenthal issued a joint statement applauding NHTSA for upgrading its investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot system from a preliminary evaluation to an engineering analysis. In October 2022 and February 2023, Senators Markey and Blumenthal issued additional joint statements on a reported DOJ investigation into Tesla’s misleading advertising of driving automation systems and on Tesla’s recall of more than 360,000 of its vehicles equipped with Full Self-Driving Beta software due to crash risk.