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DC: Federal Judge Approves Spying On Taxis
Federal court says District of Columbia may install tracking devices to record movements of cab drivers and passengers.

DC taxi cab
Spying on taxi drivers and their passengers is fine with a federal judge. In a memorandum opinion last week, the US District Court for the District of Columbia rejected a lawsuit that claimed the use of "smart" metering systems violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

DC cabbies filed suit last year after the DC Taxicab Commission mandated the use of "smart" devices that record the identity of the driver, the time and mileage of each trip along with GPS coordinates, the amount of a fare charged and real-time location of the cab. Passengers would also be tracked through credit card transactions and the data shared with DC police.

The equipment was paid for by imposing a 25-cent tax on each passenger. If a cabbie failed to pay the tax, the Taxicab Commission gave itself authority to withdraw money directly from the driver's account. The court rejected the claim that this arrangement discriminated against cabbies, because the District government imposes no similar requirement on any other business in the city.

"The regulations at issue are 'facially neutral' and there is no suggestion that they have been discriminatorily applied," US District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle. "The complaint arguably alleges a racially disparate impact (by alleging that the requirements are unique to the taxicab industry and that the drivers are a 'suspect class' because they are all either foreign born or African-American), but it fails to allege any basis upon which to infer a plausible inference of discriminatory intent could be drawn. The sole allegation pertaining to intent is that the regulation 'intentionally targets' licensed taxicab drivers. But the same could presumably be alleged as to every regulation enacted by the Taxicab Commission."

The court was even less sympathetic to the privacy argument, citing a January case from New York, El-Nahal v. Yassky, and the 1983 US Supreme Court decision, US v. Knotts. The court said the government is free to track all such movements.

"Here there has been no trespass and no infringement of a reasonable expectation of privacy," Judge Huvelle wrote. "Neither the taxicab drivers nor passengers have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the pick-up and drop-off data collected by the GPS tracking aspect of the modern taximeter system... Applying Knotts, other courts have held, and this Court agrees, that requiring a taxicab driver to install a GPS tracking device that records the start and end of each trip does not infringe on any reasonable expectation of privacy."

The court ordered the lawsuit dismissed. A copy of the ruling is available in a 50k PDF file a the source link below.

Source: PDF File Azam v. DC Taxicab Commission (US District Court, District of Columbia, 6/2/2014)

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