San Francisco – The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU of Northern and Southern California today asked a federal appeals court to reinstate a lawsuit they filed on behalf of electric scooter drivers for real-time locations and routes of scooters used by thousands of residents daily be used.
The Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) collects information about every single scooter ride within the city limits from operators of dockless vehicles such as Lyft, Bird, and Lime. It uses software that it designed to collect location data via Global Positioning System (GPS) trackers on scooters. The system does not directly record the identity of the driver, but rather records with precision the location, routes and destinations of the drivers to within a few meters, which can easily be used to determine the identity of the driver.
A lower court falsely dismissed the case, EFF and the ACLU said in a brief filed today with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the ninth district. The court erroneously found that the practice, which is unprecedented in both its invasiveness and scope, does not violate the Fourth Amendment. The court has also misused its discretion by failing to fulfill its duty to recognize the plaintiff’s allegations as true by dismissing the case without allowing drivers to amend the lawsuit to correct deficiencies in the original lawsuit as required by federal regulations.
“Location data can contain detailed, sensitive and private information about drivers, such as: For example, where they live, who they work for, who their friends are, and when to see a doctor or take part in political demonstrations, ”EFF said Supervision Process Director Jennifer Lynch. “The lower court turned a blind eye to the principles of the Fourth Amendment. And it ignored the Supreme Court rulings, which found that even if location data such as scooter riders’ GPS coordinates were automatically sent to operators, due to the sensitivity of the location data, drivers would still be entitled to privacy protection. “
The city has never provided a justification for this slow collection of location data, including this one, and has said it was an “experiment” to develop guidelines for the use of motorized scooters. However, the lower court ruled on its own that the city needed the data, and disregarded plaintiff Justin Sanchez’s assertions that none of Los Angeles’ possible uses for the data requires massive collection of detailed and accurate location information from all drivers.
“LADOT’s approach to regulating scooters is to collect as much location data as possible and ask questions later,” said Mohammad Tajsar, senior attorney for the ACLU in Southern California. “Instead of jeopardizing the civil rights of passengers with this data theft, LADOT should go back to basics: intelligent urban planning, increasing the access of poor and working people to affordable transport and strict regulation of the private sector.”
The lower court also falsely denied Sanchez’s allegations that the data collection violated the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA), which prohibits the government from accessing electronic communications information without a warrant or legal action. The court’s mangled and misinterpretation of CalECPA – that only courts that have issued an arrest warrant or are in the process of issuing an arrest warrant can decide whether to break the law – would, if left to exist, the possibilities of those who subject to unconditional recovery, severely restricting their data to ever sue the government.
“The ninth district should overturn the dismissal of this case because the lower court made numerous mistakes in handling the lawsuit,” Lynch said. “Plaintiffs should file an amended complaint and let a jury decide whether the city is violating drivers’ privacy rights.”
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