A U.S. District Court judge has quashed a case in favor of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) vs. the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on the issue of urging e-scooter companies to provide real-time data of its operations within the city.
Based on the court ruling, ACLU’s legal or constitutional privacy rights over mobility data specifications (MDS) have not been violated, although the judge recognized its concern with the city’s data collection. But the judge insisted that the debate over MDS can be best addressed “as a matter of public policy.”
The lawsuit, filed by e-scooter riders Justin Sanchez and Eric Alejo, cited MDS violated their right to privacy under the U.S. and California Constitutions, and the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
The court stressed LADOT’s claims were “legitimate and substantial,” adding they are legal and consistent with both the Fourth Amendment and the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
More from aclusocal.org
Renting an electric scooter should not give the government the right to trace your every move — where you start, where you end, and all stops, twists, and turns in between. But that’s the situation in the City of Los Angeles where electric scooter rental companies are required to provide real-time and historic GPS tracking data to city officials.
On June 8, 2020, Plaintiffs Justin Sanchez and Eric Alejo — represented by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundations of Southern and Northern California, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the law firm Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP — filed a lawsuit charging that the city’s requirement of scooter tracking data violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
In Los Angeles, the Department of Transportation (LADOT) adopted a software tool — the Mobility Data Specification (MDS) — to use GPS data to automatically track the precise movement of every scooter rider. To get permits to operate in the city, the electric scooter and bike rental companies had to agree to use MDS on all their vehicles and give LADOT access to their GPS coordinates.
The data does not include the identity of the rider, but that information can be determined in several ways. For example, when a trip begins at a home and ends at a sensitive location — such as a therapist’s office, marijuana dispensary, a Planned Parenthood clinic, or a political protest — all the government would need to know is who lives at the house to identify the rider and why the rider was making the trip.
After it’s collected, this kind of detailed information can ultimately be lost, shared, stolen, or subpoenaed. If in the wrong hands, it can also result in arrest, domestic abuse, and stalking, as a recent investigation of automatic license plate reader information in California revealed. In other cases, location information in the hands of authorities can stoke racial and gender-based violence.