ACLU Sues Los Angeles Over Scooter Data Tracking

On June 8, plaintiffs Justin Sanchez and Eric Alejo, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, filed a privacy complaint against the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) and the City of Los Angeles alleging that they collected location data from scooters without permission. The case is being held in the Central District of California before Judge Cormac J. Carney.

The complaint concerns a software interface developed by LADOT that “forces operators of dockless vehicles to provide real-time and historical data about each vehicle and trip taken in Los Angeles, all as a condition of operating.” Dubbed the Mobility Data Specification (MDS), it “requires that scooter companies produce detailed trip data about every single scooter trip taken within city limits, including where each trip starts, the route it takes, and where it ends.”

MDS allegedly does not directly record riders’ identities, though it captures their precise locations “often to within a few feet—likely allow[ing] riders to be identified.” The complaint claimed that an individual’s trip start and end locations were also recorded, which could “reveal why that rider made the trip.” Although this data might seem too vague to accurately identify a rider, the complaint describes possible scenarios, including, “Periodic trips that begin at a high school and end in a family-planning clinic could reveal that a student is seeking reproductive health care.”

The plaintiffs are residents of Los Angeles and customers of dockless vehicles, including electric scooters offered by companies like Lime, Bird, and Lyft. They use the vehicles for everyday transportation, like trips to friends’ houses, work, and other businesses. Because the data collected by LADOT’s MDS is so precise, the plaintiffs feel it violates “their right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures in contravention of the United States and California Constitutions.”

As a result of LADOT and the City of Los Angeles’ alleged privacy violations, the plaintiffs seek an award of damages and an order preventing the defendants from further collecting such precise location data.