Monday, 12 December 2016

Uber encrypts its computers from afar when the government raids its offices, a lawsuit claims

Travis Kalanick

When government agents raid Uber's offices, the company springs into action with an immediate response: it shuts everything down and encrypt all its computers. 

That's according to a court declaration by former employee Ward Spangenberg, who served as Uber's forensic investigator until last February. Spangenberg was fired by Uber and is now suing the ride-hailing startup for age discrimination, whistleblower retaliation, and defamation. 

In the declaration filed in October that was first published by Reveal's Will Evans, Spangenberg describes his role on Uber's Incident Response team. 

"I would be called when governmental agencies raided Uber's offices due to concerns regarding noncompliance with governmental regulations," Spangenberg wrote in the declaration. "In those instances, Uber would lock down the office and immediately cut all connectivity so that law enforcement could not access Uber's information."

Spangenberg refers to a raid of Uber's Montreal offices, which took place in May 2015. Investigators from Quebec's revenue ministry raided two Uber offices in Montreal after suspicions were raised that the startup was evading taxes. Spangenberg told Reveal he encrypted the office's laptops remotely, making it impossible for the investigators to find out what was on them. 

Asked about Spangenberg's allegations and if the plan he described was indeed standard Uber procedure during government raids, Uber sent Business Insider the following statement:

"It’s no secret that Uber has trip coordinates and other personally identifiable information about riders and drivers, and it’s our obligation to protect that. We cooperate with authorities when they come to us with subpoenas."

Canadian judge

According to documents published by Reveal, Uber challenged the search warrants in a Canadian court, but didn't find favor with the judge, who described Uber's conduct — according to Business Insider's translation — as having "all the characteristics of an attempt to obstruct justice." The judge concluded that "Uber wished to exempt the evidence of its unlawful conduct from the attention of the tax authorities."

In 2015 alone, Uber's Amsterdam, China, and Paris offices were all raided by authorities. While it's not clear whether that encrypting the computers and shutting everything down is standard procedure to the company, Spangenberg implies that it is.

Reveal delves further into the case and Uber's privacy and security issues over the past few years, so head over to Reveal's site to read the full story.

SEE ALSO: Uber employees used the platform to stalk celebrities and their exes, a former employee claims

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