The city of Houston passed an ordinance last year to regulate transportation network companies such as Uber-requiring permitting of companies, licensing of drivers and inspections of drivers' vehicles, among other things. Since then, the city has received multiple requests under the Texas Public Information Act for information about Uber drivers. The city has asked the Texas Office of the Attorney General for rulings on whether the records are subject to public disclosure. The AG has ruled that the city must release the information-after redacting confidential data, in some cases.
Now Rasier, a subsidiary of Uber Technologies Inc., has filed eight lawsuits against the AG and the city. In multiple cases, a judge has granted a temporary injunction to require the AG and Houston to keep the records secret until the final trial on the disputes.
"Rasier is compelled to bring this action because the attorney general ruled that highly sensitive trade secrets and personal identifying information regarding its driver partners must be disclosed in response to an open records request," said an April 3 petition that discusses a TPIA request from a Houston Chronicle reporter.
In separate answers, the AG and the city have denied the allegations and asked the court to declare that the records are public. The city also argued that it has immunity from the lawsuits.
The eight lawsuits-all styled Rasier v. Paxton and filed between April 3 and July 17 in Travis County District Court-cover separate TPIA requests by eight people: four journalists, one individual and the owners of a limousine company, a taxi and limo insurance company and a shuttle company. In one of the lawsuits, Uber subsidiary Drinnen-which connects riders to city-licensed limo drivers-is also a plaintiff.
"The city is continuing to receive multiple open records requests seeking disclosure of confidential and proprietary information regarding Rasier's driver partners," said one petition, filed on April 22 over a TPIA request by an Al Jazeera America reporter.
Generally speaking, people have asked for records that would show: the total number of Uber drivers in Houston; drivers' names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and other personal information; information on drivers' vehicles; city revenue from permits, fines or other money from transportation network companies; and more. The Houston Chronicle reporter also requested information that would have shown Rasier and Drinnen's gross receipts, revenues to the companies and drivers, trip details and more.
A reporter for KTRK Television asked for records on city transportation hearings that would have included a list of Uber drivers with past criminal charges. In that case, Rasier argued that information on someone's criminal history is already confidential under the TPIA, and other state and federal laws. Also, Rasier claimed that the city's licensing records count as driver license or permit records, which are confidential under the TPIA.
In the other cases, Rasier makes similar arguments about why driver records should remain confidential.
One representative petition over one of the Houston Chronicle reporter's TPIA requests explained that Uber created an app that allows independent drivers to get and respond to ride requests from passengers. Uber is the only transportation network company in Houston, but the petition claimed that competitors are considering opening there and "may use the confidential information at issue in this action as 'free' market research."
The total number of Uber drivers in Houston "is in itself proprietary and trade-secreted information," said the petition.
"If the identities of Rasier's driver partners ... were disclosed, Rasier's competitors or potential competitors could use that information to poach driver partners from the Rasier platform and measure and assess the size of the market, thereby undermining one of Rasier's key competitive advantages in the marketplace and depriving Rasier of revenue from the licensing fee paid by Rasier's driver partners," claimed the petition.
Rasier claimed that disclosing information on Uber drivers would violate drivers' privacy rights. Some of the information could "provide a road map for identity theft," said the petition.
"If Rasier's driver partners believe that their personal information will be made public as a result of their relationship with Rasier, potential drivers will be less likely to partner with Rasier, thereby depriving Rasier of the revenue from those driver partners," said the petition.
The company is suing for declaratory relief that the AG erred, and that records are excepted from disclosure under the TPIA. The company is asking for an injunction to force Houston to keep the records secret.
Rasier has gone to "great efforts" in other states to protect its driver information. When people requested the records under open records laws, the company successfully kept them secret based on its trade secret and proprietary arguments, said the petition.
William Ogden, who represents Rasier in the lawsuits, declined to comment. Uber spokeswoman Debbee Hancock didn't respond to an email seeking comment before deadline.
David Red, senior assistant Houston city attorney, who represents the city, also declined to comment. City spokeswoman Janice Evans didn't respond to an email seeking comment before deadline.
"The Public Information Act starts with the assumption that information is public. A governmental body or third party must prove that an exception to disclosure applies if it wishes to withhold information," said an email by Katherine Wise, a spokeswoman in the Texas Office of the Attorney General.
<<Many of those requests included information about drivers, prompting courts to restrict release.>>
the pressure keeps mounting and mounting on the release of this data, at what point does some judge order a public release of driver information
is there pressure from the insurance industry to gain access to some simple driver info ?
because you know when an insurance company is investigating a "fishy" claim and "has a hunch this could be Uber-related" the insurance industry would love to simply contact Uber and find out but Uber will say nice try but we ain't telling you sh**
<<"Rasier is compelled to bring this action because the attorney general ruled that highly sensitive trade secrets and personal identifying information regarding its driver partners must be disclosed in response to an open records request," said an April 3 petition that discusses a TPIA request from a Houston Chronicle reporter.>>
disclosed to who?
<<personal identifying information regarding its driver partners>>
hmm Why am i having this image of Uber throwing all of its driver partners under the bus
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