Papers, Please: City Sues Uber To Obtain Driver Info

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera today sued Uber in an effort to force the ride-hailing company to turn over driver information to the tax collector's office.

The petition, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, asks the court for an order forcing Uber to comply with a subpoena seeking contact information for drivers working in San Francisco.

The subpoena, issued by Tax Collector and Treasurer Jose Cisneros in January, is intended to allow the city to determine whether the drivers have obtained a business license as required by law for all independent contractors.

Uber has complied with similar requests going back to August 2014, but began refusing in December of last year, leading to the issuance of the subpoena, according to the city attorney's office. Last week, the company filed a lawsuit of its own against the city seeking to quash the subpoena.

The company argues that the demand for the names and addresses of drivers violates driver privacy and exceeds the tax collector's authority. The company also says it objects to the city's practice of posting the names and contact information of those with business licenses on a public website.

City officials say the requirement that drivers for companies such as Uber and Lyft obtain a business license is nothing new and applies to every business in the city including independent contractors.

Since the tax collector's office launched an enforcement effort involving drivers for the ride-hailing companies last year, it has mailed notices to nearly 60,000 drivers and registered around 19,000. Another 15,000 have filled out declarations that they don't need to register for various reasons.

The names of those registered for a business license are posted to a public database, but registrants are allowed to use post office boxes as addresses and register fictitious business names.

"San Francisco has over 130,000 registered businesses, and every one — large or small — that operates here has to play by the same rules," Cisneros said. "Publishing information about a business's registration status is a fundamental consumer protection service — people who use a business have the right to know if that business is operating legally."

Herrera called the argument about drivers' privacy "a complete red herring."

"Not surprisingly, Uber is thumbing its nose at the law," Herrera said. "It's time for that to stop."

The legal battle with the city coincides with Uber's efforts to back state legislation, Senate Bill 182, that require drivers to register for a business license in only one city, regardless of how many they operate in. Cities such as San Francisco would be prohibited from requiring a business license if the driver was registered in another city.

The business registration issue is not the only point of conflict with San Francisco city officials.

The company has also refused to share data with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, recently tested self-driving cars on city streets without a state permit, and resisted calls by city officials for stricter background checks on drivers.

—Sara Gaiser

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Papers please city sues uber to obtain driver info