Is Your Tesla Self-Driving Car Narcing You Out?

A viral video from The Ramcharitar Law Firm claims that Tesla could be sharing camera data with the NYPD and other police departments across the country.

By
Benjamin M. Adams

A reel posted April 10 on Instagram went viral, warning Tesla drivers that security camera video footage—even when the car is off—can be used against you in the court of law as proof of wrongdoing, with or without a subpoena. 

The reel was posted by attorney Nicky Blu from The Ramcharitar Law Firm, who has successfully represented over 500 clients across different areas of law including criminal law, family law, immigration law, and personal injury cases.

Blu’s video claims that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) is working with Tesla, based on a specific case he’s involved with, and details such as names and dates can’t be disclosed. “Tesla is working in cooperation with NYPD, giving them full recordings from all cameras of alleged crimes.” The purpose of the video is to warn Tesla drivers about the privacy risks that are associated with the self-driving electric vehicle.

“Tesla is spying on you and getting you arrested…” the IG reel reads. “And guess who they are allowing to obtain all footage from all of their cars for any suspicion of a crime […] ?!? .. NYPD and all other law enforcement. All this without even a subpoena!!”

“Tesla camera’s record even when the car is off” This is a problem folks! This means any crime committed around a Tesla, the video footage will be given by Tesla to be used against you as proof of a crime!”

Generally speaking, a judicial order or subpoena would be required to turn over data in criminal cases, and companies like Apple and Google put up a hard fight, prioritizing user privacy. But this attorney says Tesla is not putting up a fight with law enforcement and the company is fully compliant, handing over data freely.

Others Warn About Tesla Camera Privacy Concerns

In February 2023, The Dutch Data Protection Authority (DPA) carried out an investigation over concerns that Tesla vehicles could be violating privacy laws with its security camera feature. “Many Teslas parked on the street were often filming everyone who came near the vehicle,” the DPA wrote, but Tesla updated its onboard camera capabilities and the DPA didn’t end up fining the electric car maker.

A main focus of privacy concerns surround Tesla’s own “Sentry Mode” feature—a perk that allows drivers to view cam footage from their cars even when they’re not in use. “To protect your privacy, Sentry Mode recordings are not transmitted to us. For 2018 and newer model year vehicles (with software version 2020.48.5 or newer), recordings are saved to onboard memory and can be viewed directly from the vehicle’s touchscreen,” Tesla states. “Sentry Mode can also operate in a similar manner without a USB drive installed, with the ability to send an alert to your phone if a threat is detected—however, recordings of the event will not be available.”

In April 2023, Reuters reported that between 2019 and 2022, groups of Tesla employees privately shared via an internal messaging system, sometimes highly invasive videos and images recorded by customers’ car cameras.

“We could see inside people’s garages and their private properties,” a former employee told Reuters. “Let’s say that a Tesla customer had something in their garage that was distinctive, you know, people would post those kinds of things.”

Should You Be Worried About Privacy from Tesla Cams?

Merely connecting the car to a cell tower provides loads of location history via cell tower pings which are routinely subpoenaed from the wireless carrier in any criminal investigation. And while Tesla does provide a provision to opt out of such data collections, drivers will also lose functionality, the company notes.

“Tesla vehicles make use of a camera suite that provides advanced features such as Autopilot, Smart Summon, and Autopark,” Tesla’s data and privacy policy reads. “This camera functionality has been designed from the ground up to protect your privacy. Tesla does not continuously collect personally identifiable camera recordings and in fact, most processing takes place without ever leaving the vehicle. In order for camera recordings to be shared with Tesla, your consent is required and can be controlled through the vehicle’s touchscreen at any time (Software > Data Sharing). Even if you choose to opt-in, camera recordings remain anonymous and are not linked to you or your car, unless we receive the recording as a result of a safety event (such as a vehicle collision or airbag deployment). In such an event, the applicable recordings may be provided as part of your data request. You may also refer to the Owner’s Manual for your vehicle for more information on how you can record or retrieve recordings from your car.’

Last year in April 2023, The NYPD launched a test flight of nearly 200 electric cars in an effort to reduce the city’s carbon footprint. The department hopes to go electric in all of its 30,000 vehicles by 2035.

If you live in New York City, you’re probably already being watched on the street. The NYPD has the ability to track people in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx by running images from 15,280 surveillance cameras into invasive and discriminatory facial recognition software, Amnesty International claims in their report.

Benjamin M. Adams

Benjamin M. Adams is Staff Writer at High Times, and has written for Vice, Forbes, HuffPost, The Advocate, Culture, and many other publications. He holds a Bachelor of Communication from Southern New Hampshire University.

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