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A U.S. District Court judge has reportedly approved a motion to dismiss the case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) over its requirement for e-scooter firms to provide real-time data to the city. The decision marks a huge victory for LADOT, which argued data sharing is crucial for mobility governance in Los Angeles.
LADOT mandates that micromobility companies — including e-bikes and e-scooters– must provide real-time data on the start and endpoint of each trip, and the full ride route within 24 hours, via the MDS in in order to monitor for permit violations and reduce vehicles being abandoned and causing safety issues. Originally developed by LADOT, MDS is now used by more than 80 cities and public agencies around the world. It is managed by the Open Mobility Foundation (OMF) and is a city-led initiative formed in June 2019.
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 back in June alleging Los Angeles’ data-sharing requirement violated the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution and the CalECPA.
Speaking at the time of the filing, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU SoCal Mohammad Tajsar reportedly said: “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. There are better ways to keep rideshare companies in check than to violate the constitutional rights of ordinary Angelenos who ride their vehicles.”
However, the court concluded that LADOT’s interests were “legitimate and substantial” when dismissing the privacy concerns regarding the Mobility Data Specification (MDS). It found it legal and consistent with both the Fourth Amendment and the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA). The judge, Dolly Gee, did reportedly recognize, though, that the “Plaintiffs’ concern with the unprecedented breadth and scope of the City’s location data collection.” Instead, the judge said the debate over MDS “may be more appropriately addressed as a matter of public policy.”
According to Gee, though the data collected by MDS is not merely anonymous, it is related to the scooters themselves, not the identity of the people who ride them. “It is linked only to the scooter, which is shared and by its nature used by a person only for the duration of a single ride,” she wrote in the ruling. “Each ride is disassociated from other rides the user may have purchased. De-anonymizing one location data point would therefore reveal only a sole trip that a person took from point A to point B, along with the route that she took.”
She further explained that while MDS does constitute a search, it is reasonable given that it helps the city government manage issues that have dogged micromobility since its inception such as curb clutter, equitable distribution of devices and gaining a more complete understanding of how they are used day-to-day.
Spokesperson for LADOT Colin Sweeney told Cities Today: “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.”
A spokesperson from the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, on the other hand, expressed their disappointment over the decision, saying they felt the lawsuit brought to light an ongoing threat to privacy. They also added that they’re currently assessing their legal options going forward. The data LADOT requires does not reportedly include the identity of the rider, but the ACLU argued that it could still potentially be determined in combination with other information.