Tesla loses in court over sentry mode

Tesla suffered a legal defeat in the dispute over its sentry mode. The US manufacturer had to issue a cease-and-desist declaration in court.

"Camera surveillance by third parties without their knowledge is not possible," says VZBV board member Ramona Pop, referring to Tesla's guard mode, which is actually designed to protect against theft. After its activation, cameras permanently record the surroundings of a parked car, the images can be viewed remotely via an app on a smartphone.

According to Pop, consumers could not "use sentinel mode without massive data breaches" and would even risk fines. "This information was missing in the advertising for the guard mode," said the VZBV board member.

Even the data protection officers of individual federal states consider the sentry mode to be illegal because of its permanent and unrelated recording of the surroundings.

Instructions for use are not enough

The Hamburg data protection officer Thomas Fuchs criticizes that according to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), only the users of such systems - i.e. the consumers - have to comply with data protection.

This is the note on the Tesla website for the Model 3: "You are solely responsible for checking and complying with all local regulations and retention of title with regard to the use of cameras."

Data protection officer Thomas Fuchs to auto motor und sport: "The GDPR should also oblige manufacturers to comply with data protection." So far, the GDPR has only encouraged them to "consider data protection during development and to ensure that the responsible users of these systems can meet their data protection obligations."

BMW offers a similar service as Tesla. The Munich-based company states on its website that the customer is informed before use that the applicable laws must be observed. In addition, he can call up the all-round view a maximum of three times within two hours to prevent misuse. The BMW Group has no access to the data .


Berlin police see guard mode critically

As state-of-the-art electric cars, Tesla models are part of the digital world - with all their advantages and disadvantages. From the consumer's point of view, Tesla's data collection frenzy is at least partially disadvantageous - the American car manufacturer is no different from various smartphone and software providers. All current Tesla models can use a camera to monitor their entire surroundings when stationary and while driving. The image data ends up in storage and can be called up by the group at any time. This has now called the Berlin police into action: First, it was said that Tesla drivers were no longer allowed to drive their cars on the authority's properties or even park their vehicles there.The authority is now announcing that such a ban is first being prepared and that this ban will then apply to all vehicles equipped with cameras. ,

Safety-relevant hazard

As the BZ Berlin reports , the head of security responsible for the police headquarters and the state criminal investigation office has ordered a driving ban for Tesla vehicles. In an internal circular on Wednesday, the head of security emphasizes that the vehicles pose "a safety-related threat to employees, third parties (security and data protection) and the properties of the Berlin police (security of premises)". Press spokesman Thilo Cablitz stated on Thursday that the circular had been issued with the term "ban" in anticipation - there is currently no ban. The purpose of the letter was to raise awareness of the topic.

Permanent video recordings

The background to the letter is that the Berlin police found out at the beginning of January that "all vehicle models from the manufacturer Tesla make permanent, event-independent video recordings of the entire vehicle environment and release these recordings". The collected data is then "permanently stored on Tesla servers located abroad (Netherlands)." The data-supplying drivers do not find out what Tesla does with the stored data in the further course of the process. The Berlin police security chief emphasizes that you can request the data from Tesla – but only the group decides whether it will be passed on. On the other hand, the police alone are responsible for compliance with data protection on their properties.

Special parking areas for Teslas?

However, when asked, the press office of the Berlin police specified that the individual local directorates would have to check themselves how they deal with Tesla vehicles in the event of a ban. There are already proposals to create special areas for Teslas where their surveillance systems cannot collect any security-related information about, for example, civil investigators, special forces, civilian vehicles including their license plates and ammunition bunkers. The police are also working on procedures for dealing with confiscated Teslas. For example, tarpaulins are being discussed to block the camera view.

Illegal Surveillance of Public Spaces

Tesla surveillance technology is specifically about Sentry Mode. The driver can activate this at any time, and it also monitors the stationary vehicle. In addition, the driver can log into the vehicle's systems via an app and view the camera images - the car then becomes a mobile surveillance camera.What is legally unproblematic in Tesla's country of origin, the USA, is prohibited on public property in this country: no private individual has the right to monitor public spaces with cameras. Anyone who does so anyway faces a fine.

Authorities use Tesla data

On the other hand, investigative authorities also benefit from Tesla's surveillance and data collection rage. So far, the group has given out data requested by the police without reservation, making it easier to transfer its own customers - always with the note that every driver is responsible for complying with the law. Authorities and courts have also used allegedly illegally recorded images or films in the sense of data protection law to establish the truth - the allegedly illegal surveillance is then part of a separate procedure.


Tesla has filed a cease and desist letter in court, pledging to change its advertising for "Sentry Mode". The mere note in the operating instructions that the driver bears sole responsibility for the use of sentry mode is not enough. This could be the dawn of a new era for Tesla – even in the case of accidents involving the use of the Autopilot assistance system package, Tesla routinely shifts responsibility away by referring to the operating instructions. Apparently, the courts have to force a change in behavior at the former auto start-up. The car companies have an immense interest in the data of their drivers and will therefore not voluntarily forego the installation of data collection technology.

The Berlin police have long since recognized the possible effect of Tesla vehicles as mobile surveillance stations and are thinking loudly about banning vehicles equipped with cameras from entering their properties. After all, such vehicles could use their camera systems to spy out security-relevant data on, for example, civilian investigators and their vehicles, special forces and ammunition bunkers.


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