Secretly recorded Uber video of Ottawa Senators raises privacy concerns, experts say

A secretly recorded video depicting NHL players venting about team personnel matters illustrates exactly why everyone from governments to companies need to get more proactive about privacy, industry experts said Tuesday.

Surveillance and data security scholars said they were not especially interested in the dirty laundry aired among the seven Ottawa Senators players during an Uber ride, but rather deeply concerned about the issues raised by the fact that the conversation was captured and shared without those players’ knowledge.

READ MORE: ‘This is a hiccup’: Senators players say team’s relationship with coaches strong after viral video

The incident, they said, shines a light on the growing ambiguity between public and private spaces as well as the shortcomings of current laws and social practices.

Scott Thompson, who studies surveillance technologies and their impact on society at the University of Saskatchewan, said past privacy legislation was crafted around the notion that private and public realms were distinct and could be subject to different sets of rules.

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“The problem is that with the advance of technology, we’re seeing that it’s more and more difficult to identify spaces in this way,” Thompson said, citing everything from smart home devices to dash cameras in cars.

One such dashboard camera in an Uber car captured the off-hours conversation between the Senators team mates on Oct. 29 in Phoenix, Ariz. The five-minute video captures the seven players ridiculing a member of the coaching staff and mocking the team’s penalty killing performance.

Once the video became public, the players issued a statement apologizing to the coach. They also, however, emphasized that the video was shot without their consent.

A spokesman for Uber said the recording was “a clear violation” of the company’s guidelines.

“As soon as we learned of this situation, we immediately worked to help get this video removed,” Xavier Van Chau said in an email to The Canadian Press.

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READ MORE: Ottawa Senators players apologize for video that showed them trash-talking their team

David Murakami Wood, Canada Research chair in surveillance studies and professor at Queen’s University, said the way the incident will be viewed and handled depends largely on context.

If it had played out on Canadian soil, he said the driver would likely be facing legal consequences for making a recording without permission. But laws vary widely by jurisdiction, he said, adding such consequences seem unlikely for the Arizona-based driver.

Ambiguity exists in Canada too, Murakami Wood said, adding that there are different rules in place for licensed taxis and privately hired vehicles, with ride-hailing companies occupying a poorly defined middle ground.

READ MORE: Uber hack prompts formal federal privacy investigation

Murakami Wood, however, said the legal matters around privacy should be treated separately from the ethical considerations put on display in the Senators video.

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“These people’s private conversation has been broadcast to basically the whole world,” he said. “That is undoubtedly a breach of privacy in any moral or ethical sense.”

The Senators players are not the only high-profile Canadians who have had their privacy breached.

WATCH: Calgary launches investigation into Nenshi’s Uber rant caught on camera

Click to play video: 'Calgary launches investigation into Nenshi’s Uber rant caught on camera' Calgary launches investigation into Nenshi’s Uber rant caught on camera
Calgary launches investigation into Nenshi’s Uber rant caught on camera – Apr 25, 2016

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi was secretly live-streamed venting about Uber while catching a ride with rival ride-hailing provider Lyft during a 2016 visit to Boston.

“Been there, done that,” Nenshi said Tuesday when asked about the Senators’ incident. “People deserve a right to their privacy.”

Ann Cavoukian, former privacy commissioner of Ontario, called the latest breach “appalling” and said it highlighted the need for more action across the board.

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Cavoukian said governments must tighten existing privacy laws, citing the European Union’s recently enacted General Data Protection Regulation as a strong international model for other countries to emulate. The office of the federal privacy commissioner did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

READ MORE: GDPR: Here’s why you’re getting all those privacy-update emails

Cavoukian said companies also need to play a role by tightening privacy protocols, suggesting apps and programs should treat high privacy as the default rather than forcing users to opt in to more secure protections.

Both Thompson and Murakami Wood said that while businesses ought to be part of the solution, public attitudes need to shift as well.

“Companies should not be determining what are the new norms of society,” Murakami Wood said. “We need to be more assertive ourselves by saying, ‘no, that’s just not socially acceptable.'”

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He said society as a whole needs to pose fundamental questions, such as whether surveillance tools should be in such wide use or whether information learned outside of a well-defined context is truly open for sharing.

Cavoukian echoed the call for a re-evaluation of privacy in the modern age, calling on members of society not to be complacent about what she still sees as a fundamental right.

“I don’t want people to give up on their privacy,” she said. “You cannot have free and open societies without privacy, so do not give up on it. Reject the proposition that privacy is dead. Excuse me. It’s alive and well.”

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