On Monday, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) levied a $59 million on the rideshare company Uber and gave a 30-day ultimatum to receive all data on sexual assaults that have taken place in Uber rides.
The Monday ruling, issued by CPUC Administrative Law Judge Robert M. Mason III specifically says that Uber has to comply with an order given by the state from January of this year. CPUC is demanding that every incident, including the date, time, location, names, witnesses, contact information, and description of event be given for each case. If the information is not handed over, and Uber refuses to pay, CPUC may suspend Uber’s license to operate in California.
“Uber can use a code or some other signifier rather than a person’s name,” said Judge Mason in his ruling, referring to Uber’s reasoning in refusing to give the information to CPUC authorities. “Uber is a billion-dollar business that can easily afford to pay even during a pandemic where ridership has undoubtedly declined.”
Judge Mason had set the fine at $59 million by giving a $7,500 fine for every time Uber had refused to answer a question over the assault cases since January.
CPUC and the state of California have been pursuing an investigation into sexual assaults that occur in rideshare services ever since Uber released data last year that showed that 6,000 cases of sexual assault had been reported in Uber rides in 2017 and 2018 alone. CPUC officials have stated that this would be in the public interest and would help shed light on the rideshare industry and improve safety for passengers using rideshare services.
“California is trying to get a jump on this, find out exactly what happened, and find ways to prevent this in the future,” explained Los Angeles-based legal adviser Tom Servino to the Globe. “However, Uber has a problem in the way that they’re doing it. They don’t want to release those names because of privacy. Many of those people in there may not want their names getting out there victim-wise, but California is still pulling for it. That’s how we got to where we are now.”
Uber has refused to comply with CPUC demand since January
Uber officials have been adamant since January of this year that releasing the assault information would give away the anonymity of the victims, despite CPUC saying that it can now be in code, Uber also pointed out that they don’t have permission from the victims to release such information. CPUC has said that all information would also be under seal.
“The CPUC has been insistent in its demands that we release the full names and contact information of sexual assault survivors without their consent,” said Uber spokesman Andrew Hasbun in a statement on Monday. “We opposed this shocking violation of privacy, alongside many victims’ rights advocates. 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. Transparency should be encouraged, not punished.”
“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.”