By Steve Stecklow, Waylon Cunningham and Hyunjoo Jin
(Reuters) – Two U.S. senators have written to Elon Musk, Tesla Inc’s chief executive, questioning him about the sharing by employees of sensitive images recorded by cameras in customers’ vehicles.
“This apparent willful disregard for the privacy of Tesla customers is unacceptable and raises serious questions about Tesla’s management practices,” states the letter, which is signed by Senators Edward J. Markey and Richard Blumenthal and was seen by Reuters. “We urge you to take all necessary actions to ensure that any images or videos consensually collected from Tesla vehicles are subject to strict privacy safeguards.”
The letter cites a Reuters investigation last week that reported that between 2019 and 2022, groups of Tesla employees circulated, via an internal messaging system, private and sometimes highly invasive recordings from customers’ car cameras.
The recordings included a child struck by a Tesla vehicle while riding a bicycle and a man approaching a car completely naked, according to former Tesla employees. Also shared: a video of a submersible vehicle parked inside a garage that had been featured in a James Bond film and had been purchased by Musk.
Musk and Tesla couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Neither have responded to detailed questions about the Reuters probe.
The letter from Markey and Blumenthal, both Democrats, gives Musk until May 5 to answer a series of questions about the sharing of camera images, including whether Tesla executives had been aware of the practice, why its internal policies had failed to prevent it and whether the company will commit to ensure that vehicle camera recordings don’t identify the location of Tesla customers.
Reuters had reported that seven former Tesla employees had said they could view camera recordings’ map locations — and potentially see where a Tesla owner lived.
Markey and Blumenthal have previously raised concerns about Tesla, including its marketing practices and the safety of its automated driving technology.
Following last week’s Reuters report, a California Tesla owner filed a prospective class-action lawsuit in San Francisco, accusing the company of violating customers’ privacy. It alleged that Tesla employees accessed customer data for “tasteless and tortious entertainment” and “the humiliation of those surreptitiously recorded.”
((reporting by Steve Stecklow, Waylon Cunningham and Hyunjoo Jin; editing by Janet McBride))