Uber and Lyft have suspended a driver following a report that he livestreamed passengers without their expressed consent.
The driver filmed and live streamed his passengers and their interactions with him on Twitch, a service commonly used to stream video games, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch first reported.
The livestream occasionally revealed the passengers’ full names and residences, as well as private conversations and intimate moments, the newspaper reported.
Meanwhile, an audience would comment on their appearances and conversations.
But here’s the twist: It’s completely legal, despite ethical questions raised regarding passengers’ privacy.
That’s because Missouri is what’s called a “one-party consent” state, which only requires that one participant in a conversation be aware a recording is happening for it to be legal.
Regardless, the report has attracted enough attention that both ride-share companies deactivated the driver’s accounts.
In a statement, an Uber spokesperson said the “troubling behavior in the videos” violated its community guidelines, and that the “driver’s access to the app has been removed while we evaluate his partnership with Uber.”
Alexandra LaManna, a spokesperson for Lyft, said, “The safety and comfort of the Lyft community is our top priority, and we have deactivated this driver.”
The driver said it was for his security
CNN was unsuccessful in its attempts to reach the driver, who was identified by the Post-Dispatch as 32-year-old Jason Gargac.
Gargac gave an interview to the St. Louis newspaper, in which he said the cameras were there for his own security. He said the livestream was “secondary,” and the cameras were for the “security that I feel knowing if something happens, immediately there can be a response versus hopefully you’ll find my truck in a ditch three weeks later.”
In footage reviewed by the Post-Dispatch, riders would climb into Gargac’s vehicle, their faces illuminated by purple lights mounted above the backseats.
Their conversations and actions were streamed live to the Twitch platform, where viewers — some of whom paid Gargac — watched and commented. Some viewers paid a monthly subscription fee, the newspaper reported, while others donated money or gave tips.
If passengers did notice the little camera mounted on the windshield of Gargac’s vehicle, the newspaper reported, he told them it was for his security. According to the Post-Dispatch, Gargac displayed a small sticker on the back passenger window informing passengers that his car was “equipped with audio and visual recording devices” for security purposes. “Consent given by entering vehicle,” it said.”
But the paper notes Gargac appeared to contradict that statement in an interview, saying he started driving for Uber and Lyft with the purpose of hosting the livestream.
“I try to capture the natural interactions between myself and the passengers — what a Lyft and Uber ride actually is,” he told the newspaper.
Some of Gargac’s passengers who were tracked down by the Post-Dispatch weren’t happy when they were told about the livestream.
“I feel violated. I’m embarrassed,” said one, who reportedly asked to not be identified. “We got in an Uber at 2 a.m. to be safe, and then I find out that, because of that, everything I said in that car is online and people are watching me. It makes me sick.”
Reached for a response, Twitch wouldn’t comment directly on Gargac. But the company did tell CNN its community guidelines “do not allow people to share content that invades others’ privacy.” If such a violation took place, the company would take action.
Videos that had been archived to Gargac’s Twitch page were no longer on the website Saturday night.
Why it’s legal
In an earlier statement to CNN, Lyft noted that its drivers are “required to follow applicable local laws and regulations, including with regard to the use of any recording device.”
Uber also notes a similar policy on its website, which says their drivers are allowed to use video cameras to record riders for their own safety, so long as local regulations that may require riders’ consent are followed.
And this is why Gargac appears to be in the clear, legally: Missouri law doesn’t require Gargac to let his passengers in on the fact that they’re being recorded. He does not need their consent to film them.
In Missouri and a number of other states, as long as one party knows about the recording — the person doing the recording, for example — it’s perfectly legal. There are other two-party consent states, where two participants in a conversations are required to consent to being recorded.
But CNN legal analyst Page Pate acknowledges this is new territory for many states’ laws concerning privacy and recording.
“Many of these laws that were drafted to deal with one-party consent were just made to deal with (audio) recording devices,” Pate said, before there were webcams, and before cellphones had high-quality cameras.
“When these laws were drafted and enacted, I don’t think any of these states could have envisioned what we have in this case, where you have livestreaming video,” he said.
With video, he added, it’s not just about what people are recorded saying; there’s the added layer of having their image and actions recorded as well.
It’s possible that Gargac’s passengers could have some legal recourse, Pate said, but their cases would have to rely on the fact that Gargac was not just recording, but also livestreaming, and whether they had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in the backseat of an Uber or Lyft.
“It’s a fact-by-fact case,” Pate said, “and I don’t think there have been any court decisions to deal with this particular issue.”