Canada: Senate Committee Report On Autonomous Vehicles Emphasizes Cybersecurity And Privacy

Last Updated: February 9 2018
Article by Imran Ahmad, Pritika Deepak, Dan Doliner and Yasir Samad

On January 29, 2018, the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications (the "Committee") released a report titled Driving Change: Technology and the future of the automated vehicle (the "Report"), which highlighted key regulatory and technical issues related to driverless and automated vehicles. At the request of the Minister of Transport, the Committee had undertaken a study which included input from stakeholders from across Canada and the United States (the "Study"). The purpose of the Report is to (i) identify potential benefits and challenges related to autonomous vehicles, and (ii) provide recommendations on the broader regulatory and legal framework that should govern autonomous vehicles.

Recognizing that the era of traditional driving – which includes individual and trucking transportation – is coming to an end, the Report highlights the need for all three levels of government to start planning for the arrival of autonomous vehicles so that Canadians can take full advantage of automated and connected vehicles.

The Report is divided into two parts:

PART 1 – Background on Automated Vehicles and Connected Vehicles

Automated vehicles ("AVs"), also known as driverless or self-driving vehicles, rely on sensors and computer analytics to perform varying degrees of driving. The range of automation for AVs can vary from some automation, such as assistance with steering or breaking, to complete automation that functions without human control. Currently, most AVs available to consumers have some driving assistance and automation but still require the driver to pay full attention at all times and perform most of the driving tasks.

On the other hand, Connected vehicles ("CVs") offer convenience and infotainment to consumers as they are connected to the internet, to other vehicles or to infrastructure through dedicated short-range communications. It has been suggested that there will likely be a mix of short-range communications and cellular networks to optimize the use of CVs.

AVs and CVs are different but complimentary technologies. At higher levels of automation, it is likely that the distinction between the two may be blurred. Several sources in the Study indicate that ride-sharing companies, such as Uber, have been investing in AV and CV technology hoping clients will eventually be able to summon a completely driverless vehicle.

Barriers and Implications of Technology

The Committee believes that public hesitation and the lack of policies to support the technology will be more of a barrier to the broader deployment of AVs and CVs than technological issues. To put it differently, the technology will outpace regulation – thereby placing a higher emphasis on the need for Canada to put in place a comprehensive and flexible regulatory framework.

AV and CV technologies are predicted to have significant benefits. First, from a safety standpoint, AVs are expected to prevent up to 80% of vehicle collisions that result in approximately 1600 deaths a year. Second, the environmental impact will be non-negligible since they are expected to significantly reduce fossil fuel consumption. Human and social benefits are forecasted to improve by increased access to adequate transportation to foster social inclusion, especially for those who have never been able to drive or those who can no longer drive. Lastly, there are economic benefits as full market penetration of AVs is estimated to yield approximately $65 billion per year in collision avoidance, heightened productivity, fuel cost savings and congestion avoidance.

The Report also discusses the potential negative impacts related to AV and CV technologies. The Committee anticipates that AV and CV technologies will result in significant job loss due to automation (e.g., taxis, parking industry, etc.). Additionally, these technologies will result in significant privacy issues as data gathered and generated by AVs may be used to create user profiles and target customers. Other concerns include ownership of collected data and the possibility of misusing it for nefarious purposes.

PART 2 – Planning for the Arrival of Automated and Connected Vehicle Technologies

The Committee makes several recommendations on the basis that "the full benefits of efforts in this field will only accrue to Canada if a coordinated national strategy is developed."

The second part of the Report focuses on sixteen key recommendations made to all three levels of government to plan adequately for rapid advancements in AV and CV technologies. The key recommendations include:

  • Creation of a joint policy unit to coordinate federal efforts and implement a national strategy on automated and connected vehicles;
  • Develop a model provincial policy for the use of automated and connected vehicles on public roads, while engaging the respective municipalities in this process;
  • Recognizing cybersecurity risks related to AV and CV technologies, Public Safety, Transport Canada, the Canadian Security Establishment and industry stakeholders should develop security guidelines for the transportation industry, address cybersecurity issues and establish a real-time crisis connect network
  • Emphasizing the importance of privacy, the Government of Canada should table legislation to empower the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to investigate proactively and enforce compliance with the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. There is also a recommendation to assess the need for privacy regulations specific to connected cars and to develop a connected car framework with privacy protection as one of its key drivers.

In terms of planning regulations, the Report notes the need for a harmonized set of regulations "across the board" for provincial and territorial boundaries. Such regulations would anticipate the impact these technologies will have on municipal issues, such as infrastructure, urban sprawl and public transit.

As noted above, cybersecurity is a major concern given the potential impact of ransomware, vulnerability of "over-the-air" updates and patches for car operating system software. Accordingly, the need for global cooperation to create cybersecurity guidelines for all modes of automated transportation to ensure interoperability across borders is also emphasized in the Report.

Key Takeaways

Given the rapid changes related to AV and CV technologies and the desire of the federal government to have Canadians take full advantage of these new technologies, organizations should anticipate the introduction of guidance and a regulatory framework in the not-so-distant future. Among other things, emphasis will be placed on safety – both physical and cyber – as well as on privacy, given the large quantity of data that autonomous vehicles will be collecting and using. Automobile and part manufacturers should develop a robust process to ensure that cybersecurity and privacy best practices are embedded in the research and development process (e.g., introducing privacy by design and threat risk assessments).

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Imran Ahmad
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