Consultation on the collection and use of data from automated and electric vehicles

Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 23 March 2017.

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“The Secretary of State must consult with such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate on the collection and use of data from automated and electric vehicles. The consultation must address—

(a) who is responsible for collecting data from automated and electric vehicles and from any associated charging or network infrastructure used by such vehicles,

(b) how the data is shared between different parties, and

(c) any limitations on the use of such data.”—

This new clause would require the Government to consult on how that data should be handled, who should own the data and what it should be used for.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I associate myself with the remarks made by colleagues on the events of the past 24 hours. It is a delight to be here going about our proper parliamentary business; we are all delighted to be getting on with that.

Automated vehicles are likely to produce huge amounts of data on such things as car location, traffic information, maps or footage of surrounding areas, details of accidents, weather information and the car’s route, as well as information about passengers or indeed parcels inside the vehicle. Information associated with the charging of electric vehicles will inform Government policy on the legislation and infrastructure needed to support and encourage the uptake of electric and automated vehicles. The data will be a valuable resource.

There are many advantages to gathering such information. For example, if a car is self-driving and makes a mistake, the information gathered by the vehicle can be used to prevent other cars on the road and future generations of cars from making the same mistake. Information about accidents can better inform how we design our roads, and information about traffic could lead us to reconfiguring our towns and cities in order to reduce congestion and improve air quality. However, there are risks as well, as some of the information gathered by the car might be sensitive. Information about a car’s history could make identifiable a person’s place of work, who their friends are and what they have been doing, which is information that people may wish to keep private and which could be damaging in the wrong hands. Therefore, it is important that the Government ensure that the gathered data is secure, private and open, if we are to best take advantage of the new technologies.

That is not going to be an easy task, and the new clause recognises that it is important that the Secretary of State consults widely on it. That is why the new clause is tabled in these terms. It would require that the Secretary of State consults appropriate persons on the collection and use of data from automated electric vehicles, that the consultation addresses who is responsible for collecting the data from such vehicles and from any associated charging or network infrastructure used by such vehicles, how the data are shared between different parties and any limitations on the use of such data. I trust that the Minister is supportive of the intention behind the new clause and I look forward to his comments on whether it is acceptable to the Government.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Conservative, East Yorkshire

I can appreciate the thinking behind the new clause, because this is a very important area. I personally think that the new clause is defective, in that it does not require action but requires the Minister to consult. The Minister does need to go through with his officials the areas where it is permissible for data to be collected and those areas where it is not. For example, I think that we would all agree that where an automated vehicle has been involved in an accident, the data should quite clearly be made available to the insurance companies and, if the accident has involved personal injury, to the police as well.

I can also envisage certain circumstances in which the automated vehicle has not been involved in an accident, but where the authorities might wish to access the data and should be given the right to do so, for example where it is suspected that an automated vehicle has been used in a burglary or a crime such as that which we witnessed yesterday. There could be circumstances in which the police suspect that the vehicle has been used for a criminal offence and they wish to access the data to confirm that that is the case, and perhaps to find out where the vehicle has been on other occasions.

There are then other circumstances in which I am far from convinced that it is either desirable or necessary for the data to be shared. If an automated vehicle is used in a company situation by an employee, should the employers have the right to access the information to see where the employee has been? In the absence of the Minister taking any action in that area, what would the status of a freedom of information request be to the owner of the vehicle asking to see the data? Would that be allowed? I pose the question because I do not know the answer—as a lawyer, perhaps I should not do that, because we are taught to ask only the questions to which we know the answer. I honestly do not know whether the Freedom of Information Act would apply if the Bill remains silent on this issue.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will consider whether the intended target of the request is subject to the Freedom of Information Act if they are not a Government body or a manifestation of the state.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Conservative, East Yorkshire 12:15, 23 March 2017

That is an interesting point, but we should have further and better particulars from the Government, who have people who are paid to definitively know the answer to that. What about a situation in which there has been a breakdown in trust between two partners in a business or perhaps between a husband and wife? Should a divorce lawyer who suspects that the wife has committed adultery be allowed to have access to information from the wife’s automated vehicle? I would be very uneasy if that was the case. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough has performed a service in tabling the new clause, because we need to focus on these issues, and I think that there are circumstances in which such information should not be made available to those who seek it.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Transport)

Many important comments about data have already been made this morning. Clearly there is the opportunity for data to be collected to improve performance, for safety, and for reasons of tracking a potential crime. That is one set of uses for the data, but we have heard about other possible uses as well. Given the enormous amount of data that will be collated by this future technology, real thought has to go into how the data will be handled. The Minister might reflect on the fact that, in the case of mobile technology, already too much personal data are given away to companies and bodies that we might not want to have the right to have access or ownership of those data, so it is important to consider how the data will be used in future. I suggest that the Minister considers the principle of the user being the owner of the data wherever that is possible and wherever it is practical or useful for the data to be used for the purposes of safety, protection or development.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Conservative, East Yorkshire

Reflecting back on the intervention I took about the Freedom of Information Act, would the Government car service be covered by such a provision?

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Transport)

It is an interesting question that I cannot answer, for obvious reasons. It underlines the fact that because this is a big issue there needs to be a serious piece of work undertaken on data alone to decide who is allowed to access the data in future.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

The new clause calls for consultation. I must say, with appropriate humility, that had the Labour Government accepted my amendment to road traffic legislation in, I think, 2006, this measure would already be on the statute book. I tabled an amendment on vehicle data recording devices. Black boxes in other jurisdictions around the world since—again from memory—about 2002-03 have been used for such purposes. For example, when a road traffic collision occurs, the vehicle’s black box—the vehicle data recording device—in many vehicles will tell us the speed of the vehicle 10 seconds, five seconds or one minute before the impact, so that we can have an indication as to whether the alleged tortfeasor was in fact speeding.

We need something, but I would speak in support of new clause 8 rather than the concept put forward by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire that he hoped to move in new clause 2, the difference being that new clause 8 seeks consultation, not regulations now. We need consultation on these tricky devices because of the reasons put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, and also because of what the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire said about the adultery clause, as it were, or the freedom of information clause, because there are technical aspects concerning who possesses and who owns the information. Generally, the owner of a vehicle with a vehicle data recording device can be said to possess the information in the black box. However, without specialist equipment and technology from the manufacturer, the owner cannot access that information to disclose it to anybody else, whether under freedom of information or whatever. I hope that the Minister will look carefully at consultation on these issues.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I am minded to be quite brief on this new clause. I am clear that none of the contributors has sought to illaqueate the Government in an unhelpful or disputatious way. The clarity of the argument that has been advanced seems persuasive. It is absolutely right that, as our transport networks become increasingly digital, the collection and sharing of data becomes a more vital element in those developments. Of course, that includes data from electric vehicles as well as connected and automated vehicles.

We will have to consider carefully who owns the data and on what basis they are exchanged. The balance between public good and private interest here is equally clear and we will need to consult widely on that. To do so would be beneficial and necessary to engage the industry, as we have up until now, to understand both the pace and character of those developments.

We have throughout our work, as the Committee has heard, been engaged in just such consultation. The automated vehicle insurance clauses in the Bill came as a result of careful consideration, following the kind of consultation recommended by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough and others. We have a set of good consultation principles, which will underpin all we do as we move forward, but I think I can go further than that. I do commit to exactly the sort of consultation that the hon. Gentleman has called for. As we progress with these matters, we will engage with the House on the outcomes of that consultation. More than that, we will consult colleagues here. The House will have its own part to play in the discussion about how these matters develop.

For the record, I should point out that freedom of information applies only to the public sector, whereas data protection laws apply to all. I hope that provides some assurance to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire. He is right to say that there is a potential risk to security unless we get this right, a point the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey also made in his contribution. Yes, we are going to consult. Yes, we know that this is important. Yes, we will come back to the House during that process of consultation. I give that absolute guarantee now, which will be supported in writing, if the hon. Member for Middlesbrough wishes, because it is the right thing to do.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I am grateful to the Minister for his acceptance of what we are trying to achieve. In response to the comments from the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, we live in a world of equal opportunities, so we should point out that husbands are also capable of committing adultery and could be on the receiving end of such fishing expeditions.

The Minister has committed to the consultation we have called for, is happy to put that in writing and will come back to the House. I am grateful for his approach to our proposed new clause, which I do not need to press. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 11