Uber defends the privacy of victims of sexual assault and is fined $ 59 million

Young businesswoman sitting in the back seat of a car using cell phone

The California Public Utility Commission has fined Uber $ 59 million for refusing to provide detailed data on more than 1,200 alleged assaults involving Uber drivers in California between 2017 and 2019.

“The CPUC has insisted that we disclose the full names and contact details of survivors of sexual assault without their consent,” Uber said in a statement Monday. “We were against this shocking invasion of privacy, along with many advocates for the rights of victims.”

Uber disclosed the existence of thousands of assaults across the country in its 2019 safety report. Afterward, the CPUC demanded detailed information on cases that occurred in California – including the time and place where the assaults took place and witness names and contact details. The CPUC command does not specifically ask for victims’ names. In many cases, however, the victim was the only witness, so CPUC was essentially trying to expose hundreds of victims of sexual assault.

Uber objected, noting that most victims had not agreed to share their identities or stories with third parties. Even if the data were kept confidential, Uber said, a CPUC investigation of these cases could force victims to revisit one of the most traumatic moments in their lives.

In a revised order, the CPUC allowed Uber to submit the information sealed to ensure the data did not become public. But otherwise, the CPUC refused to admit it and issued a second injunction in January demanding that Uber hand over the data.

“Retraumatization of victims”

Victim rights groups such as the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN) rallied in defense of Uber. RAINN is extremely concerned that the Commission ruling directs Uber to “share a list of victims ‘names, contact details and additional incident details with the Commission without the victims’ consent,” the group wrote in an August filing. at the CPUC. .

“The vast majority of victims of sexual assault choose not to report this to the police,” added RAINN. “They certainly never envisioned that a state regulatory committee would require disclosure of information they themselves have explicitly decided not to share with the state.”

RAINN argued that enforcing the requirements of the CPUC would “nullify the right of each victim to decide when and to whom to disclose their attack” and “risk re-traumatizing the victims.”

But the CPUC seemed unimpressed by these arguments, whether from Uber or groups like RAINN. In a ruling on Monday, the agency ruled that “this decision is not required public disclosure of such information that could potentially traumatize victims a second time. Instead, the service argued, the rules “require only that information about sexual assault and harassment be provided to the Commission under seal. “

The CPUC concluded that Uber had “refused, without any legitimate legal or factual grounds, to comply” with the request for data. The agency considered Uber’s actions to be particularly harsh because they had “hurt the regulatory process.”

In determining a fine, the CPUC is expected to consider whether the action of a party is in the public interest. But in the case of Uber, the agency concluded that “there are no facts to reduce the degree of Uber’s misconduct.” So the CPUC gave Uber a harsh $ 59 million fine.

“Transparency should be encouraged”

Ironically, the ruling gives Uber the option to submit its data in anonymised form after Uber was fined heavily for refusing to name victims of sexual assault.

Uber will work with Commission staff to develop a code or numbering system to replace the actual names and other personally identifiable information of victims and witnesses to cases of violence, the ruling said.

Uber appears to be the only taxi or ride service that has dealt with questions like this from the CPUC. The company’s decision to publish statistics on sexual assault and other crimes against its passengers set a new standard for transparency, but the report appears to have received additional attention from California regulators.

“These punitive and confusing actions will not improve public safety and will only have a chilling effect if other companies consider releasing their own reports,” Uber said in its statement. “Transparency should be encouraged, not penalized.”