SINGAPORE: As a busy mother, 31-year-old Faz Gaffa-Marsh regularly nurses her baby in the backseat of taxis while she is commuting. It is the best arrangement for her, as it saves time on-the-go while protecting her modesty.
This may not be a viable option for her in future, as cabs islandwide could soon feature inward-facing cameras. On Monday (Apr 9), the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) published a set of advisory guidelines on the use of inward cameras in cabs and private-hire cars, paving the way for their widespread use in the future.
Such devices are aimed at catching fare evaders as well as deterring abusive passengers from physically harming drivers.
However, a potential drawback for some passengers is that the inward cameras would take away their privacy.
“I breastfeed a lot in taxis because looking for nursing rooms while I’m out is often a hassle,” said the mother of one. “My son hates being nursed under a privacy cover so breastfeeding becomes a challenge of me trying not to flash anybody.”
She added: “While I understand the necessity of precautionary measures for fare evaders, I will be very uncomfortable nursing my infant knowing that there’s a camera recording my every move and would rather be in a taxi without one.”
“Perhaps recording can instead start towards the end of a trip?” suggested Ms Gaffa-Marsh. “That way, passengers can be better (prepared) when recording is about to begin.”
Student Rachel Wong is strongly against inward-facing cameras in cabs, as video footage from such devices can “still somehow be accessed by drivers themselves” – an issue which makes her most uneasy.
“Perhaps there can be an alternative way of identifying and tracking passengers such as through a passenger user ID system or even a fingerprint recording system for commuters, which only the cab companies can access,” suggested the 19-year-old.
“Fare evasion is not a new problem with taxis, but I’m not convinced that inward cameras is the solution that will eliminate the problem completely,” added Ms Wong.
MOST CAB USERS PREFER TO KEEP THEIR PRIVACY
Other regular taxi riders Channel NewsAsia spoke to were supportive of the need to identify fare evaders and abusive passengers.
“For me there is nothing to worry about as the cameras would mostly be for the safety of the taxi drivers,” said civil servant Brian Bee, who regularly takes taxis as he says it is the best way for him to commute with his wife and baby.
“I believe that the safety of taxi drivers is important, especially with the numerous cases of passengers who run away from paying their own fares,” added Mr Bee.
Said another regular cab user Mr Adzmin Isriyanto: “I am fine with inward cameras as it provides the driver with some security against thieves and those who run without paying fares.
“But I would feel uneasy if they were to also record private conversations,” said the videographer, who uses taxis for work. “It would be best if there’s a notice saying that passenger audio will be recorded, as I won't like it if conversations are captured without my knowledge.”
Another cab user Ms Leann Lin agreed on the need to bring in cameras, but only if they focused on passengers’ faces instead of wider shots. “I'm okay with such cameras, in general,” she said. “Just like when you go shopping, there's cameras in the mall to deter theft."
“I believe that inward cameras in taxis are fine, but only if they are just directed at our faces and not sensitive areas like skirts and so on,” added Ms Lin, who works in the financial sector.
Some passengers, however, would not board cabs which have inward-facing cameras. “I certainly won’t take such cabs as it’s an intrusion of my privacy,” said daily cab rider Muhammad Hafiz.
“There are always other ways to catch fare evaders. Taxi drivers can always give descriptions to the police, plus you can also take photos from your smartphone if a scuffle happens with passengers,” added the executive, who is in his late-20s.
“I would need reassurance that data collected from inward cameras will not be misused, before I would consider such taxi companies” said Mr Hafiz.
TAXI COMPANIES CONSIDERING THEIR OPTIONS
As of now, taxi companies in Singapore are considering their next moves.
Channel NewsAsia reached out to several taxi companies, and those that responded said they are still reviewing the guidelines given by the PDPC on Monday.
“None of our cameras are inward taping,” said ComfortDelgro’s Group Corporate Communications Officer Tammy Tan. “We are currently reviewing the new guidelines and will work with our drivers to best look after their interests.”
Said SMRT Taxi’s general manager Shaun Lee: “We have noted the Personal Data Protection Commission’s latest advisory guidelines, and will review them accordingly based on our operational needs.”