Uber defends privacy of sexual assault victims, fined $ 59 million

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

“The CPUC has insisted in its demands that we release the full names and contact details of sexual assault survivors without their consent,” Uber said in a statement Monday. “We have stood up against this shocking violation of privacy, alongside many victims’ rights advocates. ”

Uber revealed the existence of thousands of sexual assaults nationwide in its 2019 Safety Report. Subsequently, the CPUC demanded detailed information on the cases that occurred in California – including the time and time. the location of the assaults and the names and contact details of witnesses. The CPUC order does not specifically ask for the names of victims. However, in many cases the victim was the only witness, so the CPUC’s focus was on unmasking hundreds of victims of sexual assault.

Uber objected, noting that most victims had not consented to their identities or stories being shared with third parties. Even if the files remained confidential, Uber argued, a CPUC investigation into these cases could force victims to revisit one of the most traumatic moments of their lives.

In a revised order, the CPUC allowed Uber to submit the information under seal to ensure the data did not become public. But beyond that, the CPUC refused to budge, issuing a second order in January demanding that Uber hand over the data.

“Re-traumatization of the victims”

Victims’ rights groups like the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN) have rallied to Uber’s defense. “RAINN is extremely concerned that the Commission’s decision” orders Uber to “share a list of the names of the victims, contact details and additional details about the incident with the Commission, without the consent of the victims,” ​​he said. the group wrote in an August file with the CPUC. .

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

RAINN argued that implementing the CPUC’s demands would “nullify the right of every victim to decide when and to whom to disclose their assault” and “risk” re-traumatizing the victims.

But the CPUC didn’t seem upset by these arguments, whether they come from Uber or from groups like RAINN. In a decision issued on Monday, the agency estimated that “this decision does not require the Public disclosure of such information which could potentially traumatize victims a second time. “Instead, the agency said, the rules” only require that information regarding sexual assault and sexual harassment be submitted to the Commission under seal. ”

The CPUC concluded that Uber had “refused, without any legitimate legal or factual reason, to comply” with the data request. The agency said Uber’s actions were particularly serious because they had “harmed the regulatory process.”

In setting a fine, the CPUC is supposed to consider whether a party’s actions were in the public interest. But in Uber’s case, the agency concluded that “there is nothing to mitigate Uber’s degree of fault.” So the CPUC slapped Uber with a severe penalty of $ 59 million.

“Transparency must be encouraged”

Ironically, after issuing a massive fine on Uber for refusing to name victims of sexual assault, the move allows Uber to submit its data anonymously.

“Uber will work with Commission staff to develop a code or numbering system to replace the real names and other personally identifiable information” of victims and witnesses in assault cases, the decision said.

Uber appears to be the only taxi or rideshare service to have faced such questions from the CPUC. The company’s decision to release statistics on sexual assault and other crimes against its passengers set a new standard of transparency, but the report appears to have attracted further scrutiny from California regulators.

“These punitive and confusing actions will do nothing to improve public safety and will only create a chilling effect as other companies consider releasing their own reports,” Uber said in its statement. “Transparency must be encouraged, not punished. “

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