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Travis Kalanick uber kill switch broke laws scandal documentary leak news today

Travis Kalanick uber kill switch broke laws scandal documentary leak news today
During raids, Uber's bosses told employees to use a "kill switch" to stop police from seeing data.

Leaked files show that senior executives were part of a global plan to stop law enforcement from doing its job.

Leaked files show that senior Uber executives ordered the use of a "kill switch" to stop police and regulators from getting to sensitive data during raids on its offices in at least six countries.

The Silicon Valley company's orders to make it hard for law enforcement to get into its IT systems were part of a sophisticated global plan to trick law enforcement.

The Uber files, a group of secret company documents that were leaked to the Guardian, show that the company used its "kill switch" at least 12 times in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, India, Hungary, and Romania.

In the middle of a lot of police and government raids, during which they were looking for evidence that could be used to shut down Uber's unlicensed taxi service, seize vehicles, or prosecute drivers, Uber made its kill switch systems.

During one raid in Paris, the leak shows that Uber executives pretended to "look confused" as officers circled their desk and asked to see data. They talked about cutting off office access to the company's main IT systems while watching the police look for evidence on computers.

Legal experts said that the actions shown in the data raised questions about whether or not they broke laws in France, the Netherlands, India, and Hungary that say it is illegal to try to stop justice from happening.

Even though it was known that Uber had used a "kill switch" system in some countries, like Canada and Hong Kong, the leaked files show that it was used more often and that senior executives were involved in the process.

Travis Kalanick, Uber's former CEO, and Zac de Kievit, the company's former legal director in Europe, both told IT staff to "kill" access to computer systems, according to emails. Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, who is still a part of Uber's 11-person executive team, also gave out similar instructions.

Uber said that its software "should have never been used to stop lawful government action." A spokesperson for Kalanick, who stepped down as CEO in 2017, said that the kill switch was not used to stop justice in any country. She said that Kalanick had never been charged with obstructing justice or a similar crime in any country.

Travis Kalanick, who gave up his job as CEO in 2017.
Travis Kalanick, who gave up his job as CEO in 2017.

"The police won't find out much."

The Uber files first talk about the use of a kill switch during two raids in France at the end of 2014.

Traditional taxi services had been angry for months that Uber's unlicensed ride-sharing model was unfair competition. On November 17, officials from the competition regulator, the DGCCRF, raided Uber's French headquarters in a business park in Paris's 19th arrondissement.

After a raid in Lyon three days before, the company was already on high alert, so they moved quickly.

At 3:14 p.m., after the raid had already started, De Kievit sent an email to an Uber IT engineer in Denmark that said, "Please kill access now." He copied executives like Kalanick and Gore-Coty, who ran Uber's business in western Europe, on the email.

Thirteen minutes later, the technician wrote back to say that the procedure was "done now."

The next year, after a police raid in Brussels to look into Uber's use of regular drivers without cab licenses for a service called UberPop, this approach to "unexpected visitors" would change.

Documents show that Belgian authorities wanted to get driver information from a company that was being kept on servers in the US. On March 12, 2015, eight armed officers wearing bulletproof vests showed up at the Brussels office without warning. They were joined by six IT experts.

During the raid, the police made sure that, unlike in France, local staff could not talk to Uber's main office in San Francisco. Later that day, De Kievit sent an email to executives, including Kalanick, saying, "Our team was detained and couldn't turn off the kill switch."

Still, Uber's bosses seem to have agreed to a different way to try to limit what police could find. Senior IT engineers talked in emails that Kalanick, Gore-Coty, and Uber's lawyers got a copy of about cutting access to laptops that had already been taken.

Mark MacGann, Uber's top lobbyist in Europe, got a message from a senior technician saying that he had done this through an administrative system called Casper. "The machines that were taken have been locked," he wrote.

In the fall of that year, a Belgian court told Uber to stop offering its UberPop service in the country because it was not licensed. Emails between Uber executives show that the experience taught them something important, though.

Four days after the raid in Brussels, officers from France's "Boers" police unit, whose job it was to find fake taxis, rushed into the Paris office through two different doors. Uber's lawyers were not allowed to enter the building.

After the raid, MacGann sent an email to David Plouffe, Uber's head of policy and strategy, saying that Uber had "increased our preparedness" because of what had happened in Brussels.

"The police won't be able to get much, if anything, because access to IT tools was cut off right away," he said. A person who was there that day says that the computer screens just went black seconds after the police arrived, as if they had been turned off.

Zac de Kievit, Uber's former legal director in Europe.
Zac de Kievit, Uber's former legal director in Europe.

The next month, top executives took charge of the kill switch strategy during the second of two raids in Amsterdam by the Dutch transport authority ILT.

At 9:25 a.m., Gore-Coty sent an email to the same technician in Denmark who had cut access in Paris the year before. The email told the technician to do the same thing again. Seven minutes after Gore-email, Coty's Kalanick replied, copying Uber's lawyers: "Please hit the kill switch as soon as possible... Access must be cut off in AMS [Amsterdam]."

The European headquarters of Uber was in Amsterdam, and it had to be protected at all costs. Since Brussels, Uber had not only improved its rules, but it had also learned how to predict raids and prepare for them.

A few weeks earlier, De Kievit had warned his top coworkers that raids were likely and that the company had hired a "off-site storage facility and moved all of our paper there." "To make sure that an IT kill gets everyone," a list of everyone in the office had been made.

De Kievit was arrested and questioned about his role in cutting off access to the Internet. The public prosecutor in Amsterdam said that he was fined €750 for not following an official order.

"Try out a few laptops, look lost."

But by the time of a second raid in Paris on July 6, 2015, senior staff liked the lawyer's plan. Shortly before 8 a.m., about 20 police officers and tax inspectors from France showed up. This made senior staff send a lot of text messages about how to trick them.

Thibaud Simphal, who was the manager of Uber France at the time and is now the global head of sustainability for the company, used his phone to keep MacGann and De Kievit in the loop.

MacGann told him, "Use the 'Zachary De Kievit' playbook: try a few laptops, act confused when you can't get in, say that the IT team is in San Francisco and fast asleep, and since this is all controlled by [Dutch parent company] Uber BV, they should write to Uber BV with their request."

Simphal replied, "Oh, yeah, we've used that playbook so many times that the hardest part is still acting surprised!"

As investigators started to look through laptops, executives sent each other dozens of messages talking about how to secretly slow down their work.

At 8:34 a.m., Simphal realized that access to Gore-computer Coty's had not been cut off and that, unless something was done, any investigator could still get into internal systems. "Pierre, if you can, try to close that one tab," he texted. At 8:38 a.m., a few minutes later, De Kievit confirmed that he was working with other people "about P's computer."

But Simphal could only watch as police looked at the laptop and asked his coworkers, "Why isn't it cut?" They are looking through his Google drive. He warned that by that time, the police had access to "very sensitive data" and "don't seem to know what they're looking for."

Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, who still works for Uber as a manager.
Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, who still works for Uber as a manager.

The messages show that police told staff that if laptops were blocked, they could be arrested, but the conversation about how to slow down the investigation seems to have kept going.

At 8:57 a.m., De Kievit wrote, "I would give them access to the computer, but in the background we would cut access to the cloud." Two minutes later, a Paris worker confirmed that Pierre no longer had access. "I'm next, so be sure to cut my login," he said.

In a statement, Uber said that it had stopped using the kill switch after Dara Khosrowshahi took over as CEO and changed the company's culture in 2017. MacGann said, "Every time I was personally involved in "kill switch" activities, it was because my bosses in San Francisco told me to do so."

Simphal didn't answer directly to questions about the use of a kill switch, but he did say that Uber's problems with regulators and law enforcement happened during "very difficult times" that were also "learning experiences." De Kievit did not return a request for comment.

A spokesperson for Kalanick said that the "kill switch" was not made or used to get in the way of the law. She said it was used to "protect intellectual property and the privacy of [...] customers and make sure due process rights are respected in case of an extrajudicial raid."

His lawyers said that because none of the information was permanently erased, the government could still get it later.

The spokesperson said that Kalanick did not oversee the systems, which did not delete data and were approved by Uber's lawyers. She also said that Kalanick "has never been charged in any country with obstruction of justice or any crime related to it."

Gore-Coty, who now runs the food delivery service Uber Eats, told the Guardian that he regretted some of Uber's tactics, which led to him being fined €30,000 in 2016 for running an illegal taxi service, a decision that was upheld on appeal earlier this year. Uber, Gore-Coty, and Simphal are all named as defendants in the case, which is now being reheard by the highest court in France. Gore-Coty said that when the kill switch was used, he was "young, inexperienced, and too often followed orders from superiors whose ethics were questionable."

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