The EFF and ACLU are suing Los Angeles for tracking scooter rentals

Los Angeles collects detailed trip data on scooter rides. The EFF and ACLU say that's an unlawful privacy violation.

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The EFF and ACLU have filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles for collecting trip data on dockless electric scooters. Thousands of rides are taken in the city everyday, and Los Angeles currently collects real-time location data on every rental including where rides start and end.

Uber pushed back against such collection when the city began demanding it, and back in March filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles citing the "privacy risk" inherent in collecting trip records with detailed GPS data. The company argues the data could be abused by law enforcement to monitor specific groups, like protesters, or improperly accessed to stalk individuals. Uber's Jump division, which it recently sold to Lime, continues to operate in the city and comply with the policy as its lawsuit winds through the courts.

Fourth Amendment violation? — Officials in Los Angeles have said that they need the data in order to better manage traffic and ensure that scooter providers are offering access in less advantaged neighborhoods where scooters are popular. The EFF and ACLU disagree the collection is necessary, arguing like Uber that constant tracking is a violation of the Fourth Amendment's protections against unlawful search and seizure. The groups also note that the Los Angeles City Council requested a report that outlines the city's exact uses of the data and that the city has failed to fulfill the request.

Privacy is of heightened concern today — Protests have continued around the country after a white police officer killed George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the end of May. Clashes between law enforcement and citizens have been violent, and cities have implemented curfews in an attempt to quell protesting. Real-time data from scooters could theoretically alert police to protesters outside during curfew and enable them to hunt those individuals down. Currently the EFF says there are no checks in place on how the data can be used, though the city says it only uses the data for regulating scooter companies. Right now we just have to take their word for it.

Law enforcement has previously used "geofence warrants" to identify people who appeared at a crime scene using GPS data, therefore inferring involvement. There's no evidence that police are currently tracking protesters through such methods but recent escalations by police and Trump's demands to crack down suggest it's possible they could be using digital methods to find people who may have, say, been near the scene when a police cruiser was burned.

To be sure, scooter companies have a history of flooding cities with scooters and even redlining poorer neighborhoods, but today's lawsuit argues that such constant data tracking also needs to be regulated properly to ensure everyone's privacy is being respected and that simply riding a scooter doesn't get you caught up with the law.