Uber uses 'panic button' to shield files during police raids


Late previous year, news broke that Uber is officially under federal investigation for a program it called Greyball. Last February, the NYT revealed Uber used a Greyball software tool that showed officers a fake app to avoid driver tickets.

If you recall, the ride-sharing company has been the subject of FBI investigations due to its use of computer programs Hell and Greyball.

Uber used Ripley during a raid in Montreal in May 2015, according to Bloomberg. Employees named the program Ripley, after the heroine Ellen Ripley in the Alien movies. "It's the only way to be sure".

The idea was for Uber's team at its San Francisco headquarters to be able to shut down a device if necessary.

Albert Gidari, director of privacy at Stanford Law School's Center for Internet & Society added that companies often protect networks and computers against dawn raids where the scope of authority is in question and the data to be seized is in another jurisdiction.

It then adds, "Like managers at Uber's hundreds of offices overseas, they'd been trained to page a number that alerted specially trained staff at company headquarters in San Francisco".

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According to Bloomberg's sources, Uber's use of Ripley began in early 2015 and the program was used regularly as recently as late 2016 in cities like Amsterdam, Brussels, Hong Kong, and Paris.

Uber said that it doesn't destroy evidence and it has let government officials walk out the door with company laptops before - it all depends if the data the authorities want is covered by legal privilege, such as correspondence between Uber and a lawyer.

Uber said in a statement that, like all companies, it has various security procedures in place to protect its data.

"For instance, if an employee loses their laptop, we have the ability to remotely log them out of Uber's systems to prevent someone else from accessing private user data through that laptop", the Uber spokeswoman said. "When it comes to government investigations, it's our policy to cooperate with all valid searches and requests for data". The secret tool, called "Ripley", has been used over two dozen times to block the legal efforts of local offers from gathering information, sources told Bloomberg. And it is true that law enforcement doesn't necessarily have a right to every piece of company data simply because a warrant of some sort exists.

"If a company centralises its business data in country X and the authorities in country Y raid the local office and try to access that data through computers at employee desktops, that's a cross-border search", he said. But if the accounts of selectively hiding information from authorities are accurate, at the very least, that's extremely shady.