California safety regulators have slapped Uber with a $59 million fine over the rideshare company’s refusal to hand over detailed sexual assault data.
Uber, says The Los Angeles Times, has spent much of the past year refusing state regulators’ requests for additional information. The state is seeking records on sexual assault claims filed by passengers and drivers alike, along with the measures Uber took—if any—to address allegations.
According to the Times, regulators began pursuing Uber after the company revealed in a December 2019 report that it had received approximately 6,000 reports of sexual assault within the past two years.
Following Uber’s release, the California Public Utilities Commission ordered the company to turn over copies of every sexual misconduct claim made within the state between 2017 and 2019. The Commission stipulated that any such record should include the names and contact information of witnesses, victims, and alleged perpetrators, as well as the Uber employees who received and handled each report.
However, Uber has said that disbursing victims’ information could endanger their safety or prompt post-traumatic stress responses.
But in a Monday order, California Public Utilities Commission Administrative Law Judge Robert M. Mason III called the company’s concerns “premature,” as the agency regulators had previously pledged to keep any such information sealed.
“Uber is wrong when it argues that compliance [with previous rulings] will violate a sexual assault victim’s privacy that California law is designed to protect,” Mason said. “Rather than casting itself in the role of a victim of regulatory overreach, it is Uber who is playing the part of the obstructionist who has prevented the commission from carrying out its regulatory, investigative and enforcement duties.”
Mason did suggest something of a compromise, though—that Uber work with agency staff to develop “a code or numbering system as a substitute for actual names and other personally identifiable information requested.”
Uber, however, has signaled its reluctance to comply.
“The CPUC has been insistent in its demands that we release the full names and contact information of sexual assault survivors without their consent. We opposed this shocking violation of privacy, alongside many victims’ rights advocates,” Uber spokesman Andrew Hasbun said in response to Mason’s ruling. “Now, a year later, the CPUC has changed its tune: we can provide anonymized information—yet we are also subject to a $59 million fine for not complying with the very order the CPUC has fundamentally altered.”
The Commission, though, has stressed that Uber—a multi-billion dollar company—should easily be able to pay a $59 million fine. And Mason himself observed that, for all its claims of caring about victims’ privacy, Uber’s record on keep passenger information secret has been “less than stellar,” with one 2016 data breach exposing the data of an estimated 57 million drivers and riders.