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Uber Files Federal Suit Against LA Over Data Demands

Uber Files Federal Suit Against LA Over Data Demands

In an unexpected twist for a tech company, Uber has filed a federal lawsuit against the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT), one that has been brewing for 18 months, according to a Wall Street Journal report on Wednesday (March 25).

Uber's draft lawsuit accuses the LADOT of violating the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment by mandating that records be turned over without a warrant. At issue is the Los Angeles rule that requires companies to provide real-time geolocation data at the starting point and endpoint of each trip and the full ride route within 24 hours, via LA’s Mobility Data Specification (MDS). The city indicates that it needs this data to monitor for permit violations.

Uber argues that the LADOT is overstepping its boundaries by demanding real-time location data for its dockless scooters.

"Real-time in-trip geolocation data is not good for planning bike lanes, or figuring out deployment patterns in different neighborhoods, or dealing with complaints about devices that are parked in the wrong place, or monitoring compliance with permit requirements," a draft of the lawsuit indicates, as reported by CNET. "What it is good for is surveillance."

Uber also argues that the LADOT’s MDS is in violation of California's Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA) because it requires location data sharing in order to get a permit, a report from The Verge indicated.

Uber and Lyft wrote to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in August stating that LADOT “was exceeding its authority” with MDS. The California Legislative Counsel agreed in a non-binding opinion.

“While we support the creation of a global standard for data sharing for local municipalities, it appears that certain city MDS requirements may be in violation of CalECPA,” the companies wrote. “We have repeatedly raised concerns directly with these municipalities throughout the development and implementation of MDS, and yet they continue to require the MDS as a condition of our operating permits.”

In October, LADOT pulled Uber’s operating permit after Uber declined to cooperate with sharing real-time trip data. But earlier in March, Uber gave in and began turning over the required data so its JUMP scooters wouldn’t be pulled off the street.

Officials in Los Angeles said they think Uber is using privacy as a way to get around the requirements and don’t believe it’s the company’s real concern.

“That fear of data collection as the slippery slope toward full government regulation is very much in the DNA of these companies,” Seleta Reynolds, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, told the WSJ. “It’s because of the history of how they launched and grew up.”

Uber said in a November 2019 transparency report that it has seen increasingly more requests for data information. The company said it received 3,825 requests for 21,913 users from the U.S., whereas in 2018, it had 2,940 demands for 17,181 user accounts.

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