Uber Tells Texas & Houston to Butt Out

     AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – Uber sued Houston and the Texas attorney general to try to stop them from answering an Open Records request from the Houston Chronicle, claiming information about its drivers is a trade secret.
     Rasier LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Uber Technologies, sued the state and city on March 19 in Travis County Court.
     Uber calls its drivers independent contractors. “Got a car? Turn it into a money machine. The city is buzzing and Uber makes it easy for you to cash in on the action,” a typical Uber ad states.
     Uber is worth around $40 billion, according to some recent valuations.
     Uber and its competitor Lyft face a slew of lawsuits on regulatory issues and have received bad press for alleged crimes committed by drivers. The taxicab industry claims that ride-share companies such as Uber and Lyft unfairly duck regulations and fees faced by taxi drivers.
     Austin and Houston have passed rules governing transportation network companies (TNCs), including Uber. Austin legalized TNCs in October 2014, and the Houston City Council allowed them to operate at city airports in November 2014.
     Houston received an Open Records request from Houston Chronicle reporter Dug Begley, seeking pages from “Vehicle-for-Hire Driver’s License Applications for Rasier’s driver partners.”
     The applications have drivers’ personal information, including names, Social Security numbers, mailing addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, driver’s license numbers, physical characteristics, birth date and place, marital status, employment history, and residential history, according to the complaint.
     Houston asked the attorney general for a determination on whether the driver information must be disclosed.
     Uber claims that “the confidential information consists entirely of trade secrets protected by section 552.110(a) of the TPIA [Texas Public Information Act] and/or commercial information the disclosure of which would cause Rasier substantial competitive harm.”
     “The confidential information consists of information that reveals the identities and number of Rasier’s driver partners,” the complaint states. “Rasier’s driver partners are both suppliers, as they provide services to those who seek rides through the Uber smartphone application, and customers, as they pay Rasier to provide access to the Uber digital platform. Having a robust supply of drivers available to meet customer demand is critical to Rasier’s competitive advantage … Rasier’s competitors could use that information to poach drivers from the Rasier platform, thereby undermining one of Rasier’s key competitive advantages in the marketplace and depriving Rasier of the revenue resulting from payments from Rasier’s driver partners.”
     Uber did not respond to a request for comment.It seeks declaratory judgment that the attorney general erred in his open records ruling; that Houston properly withheld the confidential information; and that the confidential information is exempted from disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act; and an injunction stopping Houston from releasing the information.
     It is represented by Brian O’Reilly, with Locke Lord in Austin.

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