ACLU Sues City Of LA Over Scooter Data Collection
The local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the city of Los Angeles over its electric scooter program, saying its collection of geolocation data violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and state privacy law.
The lawsuit, filed in partnership with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a local law firm, also argues that in the wrong hands — which might include the government — the data could be weaponized against marginalized communities. ACLU officials say their goal is “to end all prospective collection, storage, or maintenance of precise location data acquired through [the program].”
“The government's appropriate impulse to regulate city streets and ensure affordable, accessible transportation for all should not mean that individual vehicle riders' every move is tracked and stored without their knowledge,” Mohammad Tajsar, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, said in a statement. “There are better ways to keep ride-share companies in check than to violate the constitutional rights of ordinary Angelenos who ride their vehicles.”
The city of L.A. launched its micromobility pilot program in April 2019, aiming to study how scooters are used and where the dockless vehicles might fit into local governments' wider vision for mobility.
Part of the agreement required scooter companies to share their location data in real-time. LADOT officials said this was integral to managing the tens of thousands of scooters allowed to operate on city streets. The real-time data allows local officials to see where scooters are being parked and if they're blocking wheelchair access, fire hydrants or building entrances, then respond accordingly.
The city collects three key data points:
- where the trip started
- where the trip started ended
- the route from start to end
The data collected by the city is stored "free of any personally identifiable information," according to LADOT's website. But representatives from the ACLU say that doesn't guarantee anonymity and protection. In a statement, they explained it this way:
"The data does not include the identity of the rider, but that information can be determined in a number of 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 in order 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… In other cases, location information in the hands of authorities can stoke racial and gender-based violence."
LADOT spokesperson Colin Sweeney previously told me the agency is responsible for processing a myriad of data every day, like collecting financial information from parking meters.
"The idea that the department can't be trusted with data is a little much," he said.
Asked about the lawsuit Monday, Sweeney provided this statement from LADOT:
"We cannot comment on pending litigation, which we also have not seen. The department requires reasonable information about shared vehicles operated by for-profit transportation technology companies and remains committed to ensuring the safety and accessibility of our streets."
READ MORE ABOUT SCOOTERS IN SOCAL:
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- How Santa Monica Established Order From Scooter Chaos (And What It Can Teach LA)
- 'The Herpes Of Urban Transit' And Other Scooter Feelings You Shared With Us