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Transportation and Mobility

LA’s Scooter Data Collection Does Not Violate Fourth Amendment, Federal Court Says

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A commuter rides an e-scooter on the sidewalk in Los Angeles in Aug. 2019. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
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A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and its Department of Transportation over the collection of location data for the thousands of electric scooters deployed across the city.

L.A. launched a pilot program in April 2019 to transform what was then scooter chaos into a manageable form of mobility. As part of that program, LADOT required scooter companies, including Bird, Lime and Lyft, to share real-time data for each scooter.

The city collects three key data points:

  • where the trip started
  • where the trip started ended
  • the route from start to end

The lawsuit was filed last June by the local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, in partnership with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a local law firm, on behalf of Justin Sanchez and Eric Alejo.

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The plaintiffs, who took trips using the scooter fleets managed by LADOT, claimed the city was violating the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment and state privacy law by collecting geolocation data from the vehicles.

Central District of California Judge Dolly M. Gee disagreed and dismissed the lawsuit “with prejudice.” The judge said regulating a massive, novel transportation fleet “requires robust data,” and ruled that LADOT’s data-collection system “is not a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.”

“But even if it were a search, it would be an administrative search, not for law enforcement purposes, that is justified by its furtherance of legitimate government interests,” Gee wrote.

ACLU Foundation of Southern California officials had argued that in the wrong hands — which might include the government — the data could be weaponized against marginalized communities. The group provided this statement on Friday:

“We were of course disappointed by the decision in this lawsuit that we feel brought to light an ongoing threat to privacy. We are assessing our legal options going forward.”

LADOT officials also issued a statement to LAist on their legal victory:
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“We appreciate the court's decision on this case. As we have continuously stated, cities need data in order to effectively manage the public right-of-way. The limited data we gather from private, for-profit companies allows us to enforce regulations that protect communities and ensure equitable access to all modes of transportation.”

You can read the full judgement here.

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