Los Angeles—The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today joined the ACLU of northern and southern California in filing a lawsuit against Los Angeles for collecting detailed trip data and real-time locations and routes of the electric scooters thousands of residents use each day.

EFF, ACLU-Northern California, ACLU-Southern California, and Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP are representing scooter riders Eric Alejo and Justin Sanchez in a case seeking a court order halting a requirement by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) that operators of dockless vehicles like JUMP, Lyft, and Lime, collect and turn over to the city information about every single scooter trip taken within city limits. The data collected includes real-time and historical, minute-by-minute information about where and what time every ride was started, and where and what time each ride ended.

Los Angeles is collecting this data using a software tool it developed with an outside vendor called Mobility Data Specification, which gathers location data through Global Positioning System (GPS) trackers on scooters. MDS doesn’t capture the identify of riders directly, but collects with precision riders’ location, routes, and destinations to within a few feet, which can easily be used to reveal the identities of riders.

The city has never offered a reasonable justification for why it needs such granular and precise location data, saying that the goal is to “experiment” with it in setting policies for motorized scooter use. The Los Angeles City Council asked the LADOT to provide a report about the specific regulatory purposes for data collection and how it will be used by Feb. 25. To date, the agency has not done so.

“Route data can reveal detailed, sensitive, and private information about riders, such as where they live, who they work for, who their friends are, and when they visit a doctor or therapist,” said EFF Staff Attorney Hannah Zhao. “The city is collecting this information, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, as an experiment. This is galling and improper, especially at a time when protests are erupting around the country and privacy protections for those exercising their free speech rights on the streets has taken on new importance.”

In Los Angeles, as in many cities around the country, renting motorized scooters is a popular way for residents to get around town and commute to work, as plaintiff Alejo does. Los Angeles is grappling with how scooters are being used on sidewalks, right of ways, and streets. But collecting reams of data about residents’ rides, with no guarantees or oversight about the security of the information or whether it’s being shared with law enforcement or other agencies, is unreasonable and overbroad.

“The city plans to extend its use of MDS to collect minute-by-minute route data for ride-hailing and car-sharing services and driverless cars. It’s one thing to seek to regulate these new technologies—it’s another thing to obliterate citizens’ rights to keep their everyday travels private to do so. We think the courts will agree,” said EFF Surveillance Litigation Director Jennifer Lynch.

“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,” said Mohammad Tajsar, senior staff attorney at the ACLU SoCal. “There are better ways to keep ride-share companies in check than to violate the constitutional rights of ordinary Angelenos who ride their vehicles.” 

For the complaint:

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