"Nuke it from the home office. It's the only way to be sure."
January 12, 2018 2:44 PM   Subscribe

Previously, we've heard about Greyball, Uber's system for identifying potential government officials on the service and feeding them false information. However, Bloomberg reports on a second technological system used by Uber to thwart investigations - Ripley, a system that allowed Uber to lock down the computers in foreign offices when investigators came calling. (SLBloomberg) posted by NoxAeternum (63 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's increasingly clear that Uber is a racket in the racketeering sense.
posted by signal at 2:53 PM on January 12 [52 favorites]


At this point I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out Uber could remotely crash cars investigators were riding in.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:53 PM on January 12 [17 favorites]


Why do you think they're working on autonomous vehicles?
posted by MikeKD at 2:55 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


They're a white Persian short of being a Bond villain.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:57 PM on January 12 [8 favorites]


Uber responds: "This is so nuts. I mean, listen - listen to what you're saying. It's paranoid delusion. How - It's really sad. It's pathetic."

"...okay, look. What if that computer didn't even exist, huh? Did you ever think about that? I didn't know! So now, if I went in and made a major security issue out of it, everybody steps in. Administration steps in, and there are no exclusive rights for anybody; nobody wins. So I made a decision and it was... wrong. It was a bad call, Ripley. It was a bad call."
posted by leotrotsky at 2:58 PM on January 12 [28 favorites]


Delete the app from your phone if you haven't already. What a dumpster fire of a company.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:59 PM on January 12 [16 favorites]


While reading this, my internal monologue suddenly said "Who the hell do you think you are?"
posted by Servo5678 at 3:03 PM on January 12


Obstruction of justice, surely?
posted by clawsoon at 3:03 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Sort of the high tech version of, "Quick! Flush it all down the toilet!" Sounds legit to me...
posted by jim in austin at 3:07 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Dumpsterfire.gif
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 3:14 PM on January 12


Its not a RICO and organized crime and labor violations if its "disruption" and "start-up ipo" and "synergy". Capitol punishment for capital crimes.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 3:14 PM on January 12 [13 favorites]


As much as I dislike Uber. . . taking precautions to prevent individual governments from having free access to all the data in your international organization seems pretty reasonable. If this were about Amnesty International, rather than Uber, I doubt there would be so much outrage.

I encrypt my hard drives. I shut down laptops when I cross borders. That's not really much different from Ripley. When I'm in a particular jurisdiction, the government can bring legal charges against me to encourage me to decrypt my data. Just as they can hold Uber employees accountable for evading the law and refusing to divulge documents. Giving every government access to an entire international organization's data, whether or not they have legal authority to do so, is a terrible solution to a failure to hold actual business people accountable for what their businesses do.

Which is to say, please burn Uber to the ground and sweep the ashes into the sea. But, when you do, see if you can get hold of the Ripley source code. It sounds incredibly useful for companies and organizations that aren't awful for unrelated reasons.
posted by eotvos at 3:29 PM on January 12 [37 favorites]


Yeah, 2nding what eotvos said there... Uber probably did all kinds of illegal stuff too, but encrypting and locking the computers this way is what I'd think responsible and competent legal and IT departments would do. (Being neither a legal nor IT person myself.)
posted by XMLicious at 3:35 PM on January 12 [5 favorites]


When I'm in a particular jurisdiction, the government can bring legal charges against me to encourage me to decrypt my data.

The governments did do that - in the story, they talked about Ripley being used in response to government officials executing a lawfully issued subpoena against Uber offices, locking them down so investigators could not obtain the data they had a legal order for. That's not data security, that's obstruction of justice.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:38 PM on January 12 [38 favorites]


Uber. Smdh. How about run a company where you’re not intentionally giving a big fuck you to civilization as your corporate mission.
posted by Annika Cicada at 3:49 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]


They're a white Persian short of being a Bond villain.

Or the hero of an Ayn Rand novel.
posted by acb at 3:50 PM on January 12 [8 favorites]


Mens rea is pretty unambiguous when it's in the fucking source code.
posted by ocschwar at 3:59 PM on January 12 [6 favorites]


Yeah, honestly given that governments and police are not going to necessarily hold to the privacy laws of all the clients accessible via computer, this actually kind of makes sense. There aren’t really good cross-governmental protections.
posted by corb at 4:18 PM on January 12


given that governments and police are not going to necessarily hold to the privacy laws of all the clients accessible via computer

It's not as if Uber does, either, considering the data breach.
posted by scruss at 4:38 PM on January 12 [3 favorites]


This is not about protecting privacy. This is about obstructing justice, pure and simple.
[When Canadian authorities raided the Montreal office] staffers quickly remotely logged off every computer in the Montreal office, making it practically impossible for the authorities to retrieve the company records they’d obtained a warrant to collect. The investigators left without any evidence.
That's "fuck you, cops, we're above the law". No other way to read it.
posted by Zonker at 4:39 PM on January 12 [23 favorites]


Yep, if this were about customer privacy, they a) would have built it into their operations once they started expanding into multiple offices/jurisdictions, or b) at the very least wouldn't have implemented it in direct response to warranted raids regarding accusations of tax-avoidance and/or unlicensed operations.

If I were to build out a multi-national network of dealers independent contractors for my new startup Tokr - which aims to disrupt the entrenched smokable market - and then once the DEA (or RCMP) starts to raid my offices I implement a digital burn bag/system lockout and begin developing a dummy system of partial data to keep them from accessing my records, it seems much more likely that I'm protecting myself rather than the PII of my clients. Together with my parallel system that switches to selling oregano when I think I've detected that government agents are trying to purchase services from my company, it may look bad, but I'm really just privacy-minded! (I'm not saying that a service like Tokr should necessarily be illegal, simply that many jurisdictions would currently frown on its operation due to their existing laws.)
posted by sysinfo at 5:17 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


Ripley? Uber always struck me more as a place that's run by hundreds of Carter Burke clones. "Yeah, so, we programmed the cars to knock you out with gas so we could harvest your kidneys, but we need to show something for this quarter!"
posted by benzenedream at 5:36 PM on January 12 [3 favorites]


I shouldn’t be surprised that people are willing to defend this, but to do so by comparing them to Amnesty International? Let’s try and act like reasonable human beings here.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 6:44 PM on January 12 [9 favorites]


Isn't this exactly what happens in Cryptonomicon? A government with a warrant comes calling for computer data and the protagonist has a failsafe for that very eventuality and wipes the servers? (Though I think it also involved blowing the servers up too. It's been a while).

I'm on board with eotvos. Fuck Uber and their board and they way they do business. But Ripley is literally Hacker Fantasy 101 come to life.
posted by thecjm at 7:20 PM on January 12 [3 favorites]


but to do so by comparing them to Amnesty International? Let’s try and act like reasonable human beings here.

Since we're invoking reason, it's probably worth pointing out that the comment you're responding to actually doesn't compare Uber and Amnesty International or pretend they're on the same moral footing. It's invoking a sympathetic example in order to illustrate a principle, probably worth considering as most people would cut a great road through the law to get at the devil and all that. Uber can be 100% Randian black holes and Amnesty can be God's angels themselves and it wouldn't change the point much, for the same reasons that both damned criminals and the innocent are covered by civil liberties.
posted by wildblueyonder at 7:33 PM on January 12 [11 favorites]


Amnesty International, while perhaps preventing access to computers, would probably respond to a warrant with lawyers, not deception. I think that illustrates something.
posted by sagc at 7:52 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


But Ripley is literally Hacker Fantasy 101 come to life.

And as hackers keep finding out, "Hacker Fantasy 101" winds up not meeting legal snuff in the real world, because when you throw a kill switch to prevent the police from executing a legally issued warrant, the courts don't go "drat", but instead say things like:
About a year after the failed Montreal raid, the judge in the Quebec tax authority’s lawsuit against Uber wrote that “Uber wanted to shield evidence of its illegal activities” and that the company’s actions in the raid reflected “all the characteristics of an attempt to obstruct justice.”
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:17 PM on January 12 [10 favorites]


I'm on board with eotvos. Fuck Uber and their board and they way they do business. But Ripley is literally Hacker Fantasy 101 come to life.

Y'know, it's funny, but I've grown nostalgic for "rule of law" and "regulators" in the last year. Sometimes fantasies should stay in fanfic.
posted by benzenedream at 8:18 PM on January 12 [13 favorites]


it seems much more likely that I'm protecting myself rather than the PII of my clients

Well we can't have people protecting themselves, not when a government has written down a list of things it wants on a piece of paper and called it a warrant!

Do people seriously not understand that the pushback has nothing to do with concern for or exoneration of Uber, nor the validity or non-validity of any warrant or police procedure followed here?

It's just fine for the purposes of an internet discussion to say that everyone knows Uber is guilty as sin, but we should not be endorsing as a general principle "Thou shalt have no secrets from the government and attempting to do so shall be evidence of guilt." As tools, Greyball and Ripley are different things—there's no legitimate use for Greyball. In one of the jurisdictions mentioned in the Bloomberg article an armed national police force has just been placed under the direct control of the Communist Party.
posted by XMLicious at 8:52 PM on January 12 [3 favorites]


It's invoking a sympathetic example in order to illustrate a principle, probably worth considering as most people would cut a great road through the law to get at the devil and all that.

Except that it doesn't work, because it equates proper data controls (something that Uber seems to not have, given all the fuckups with user data that we've seen) with the digital equivelent of flushing the evidence down the toilet.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:54 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


but we should not be endorsing as a general principle "Thou shalt have no secrets from the government and attempting to do so shall be evidence of guilt."

Good thing nobody's saying that! What people are pointing out is that if your response to police coming in with a legally issued warrant is to throw a kill switch to make executing that warrant impossible, you're not doing anything noble, you're engaging in obstruction. Also, if you are going to try to make the pants-millinery argument that the control structure of the police in China somehow justifies Uber throwing said kill switch in Canada, that's a position worthy of derision.

Also, if you're really worried about governments forcing their way into Uber's main data systems from their branch office, that says that Uber's data security and siloing is really fucked up.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:03 PM on January 12 [9 favorites]


Ok someone help me out. Ripley is named after this, this, this or the deadly alien virus from Dreamcatcher?
posted by Toddles at 9:34 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Per the article, after the Quebec raid Uber
cooperated with a second search warrant that explicitly covered the files and agreed to collect provincial taxes for each ride.
Fancy that, the "impossible" was accomplished!

Pretending that a legal request for records is rendered "impossible" because the government can't take those records by force before even asking for them is not only worthy of derision, it's a fundamentally totalitarian mindset.

Again—I don't actually give a shit about Uber, at all. By all means, hunt them down extrajudicially and roast them over hot coals while flaying the flesh from their bones because they "threw the kill switch", even though the government got what it wanted anyway. Make them scream in endless torment for ever even thinking of throwing the kill switch. But let's disentangle the principles here from the entirely reasonable and appropriate lust to righteously condemn and vilify them.
posted by XMLicious at 9:44 PM on January 12 [5 favorites]


Uber can be 100% Randian black holes and Amnesty can be God's angels themselves and it wouldn't change the point much, for the same reasons that both damned criminals and the innocent are covered by civil liberties.

this is an interesting question. if we were talking about one set of laws, i would agree with you. but with global companies operating under numerous different countries' legal systems, i'm not so sure. let's just assume all the companies are moral ciphers; no idea if they're good or bad. fine. but governing them, that still leaves you with dictatorships, whose laws can't be trusted, and democracies, who do have their citizens' best interests in mind. so you have variables on BOTH sides of the equation. it isn't so simple as saying that all private actors deserve the same process, given that they aren't subject to the same sovereigns.

in other words, all else being equal, we should be a helluva lot less inclined to man the barricades on behalf of the target of a canadian investigation than, say, a chinese or russian or turkish one.
posted by wibari at 10:31 PM on January 12


Pretending that a legal request for records is rendered "impossible" because the government can't take those records by force before even asking for them is not only worthy of derision, it's a fundamentally totalitarian mindset.

I'm sorry, but no. It is not "totalitarian" to expect that the rule of law is respected - and yes, this includes being issued with a warrant. Fight it legally, have your lawyers hold it to its very letter - but when you decide that the law no longer applies to you - a mentality that has pretty much defined Uber - that's how the law breaks down.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:15 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]


Well we can't have people protecting themselves, not when a government has written down a list of things it wants on a piece of paper and called it a warrant!

Do people seriously not understand that the pushback has nothing to do with concern for or exoneration of Uber, nor the validity or non-validity of any warrant or police procedure followed here?


I specifically stated possibilities as to what Uber could have done if that were their legitimate concern, and I grant that mine are not the only reasons to protect data. Positing a whatabout does not make their actions legitimate. I wholeheartedly agree that governments can overreach, and that totalitarianism can be a valid reason to protect company data. That's not what happened here though, unless China has somehow co-opted the law enforcement apparatus of Canada, Belgium, and France, as those are the governments referenced in TFA. If there are concerns about Uber being forced to turn over customer data in China that relate to your link, that would certainly be a worthwhile contribution and data point, but otherwise that has nothing to do with what's happening here.

Also, "when a government has written down a list of things it wants on a piece of paper and called it a warrant" is generally just called government. Is it always fair? No, of course not. Can a corporation choose to not do business in that country? In Uber's case, yes. Yes, it can. Can it fight that order in a court of law? Hopefully, yes. But again, none of that is what's actually happening here.
posted by sysinfo at 11:33 PM on January 12 [6 favorites]


Any big company with a security team worth its salt has the ability to remotely lock down equipment and wipe data. This isn't just to counter law enforcement, but to handle things like lost equipment. What's objectionable isn't that Uber has the tech, it's what they do with it. Framing this as some secret hacker tool is sensationalism.
posted by airmail at 11:44 PM on January 12 [6 favorites]




It pains me a little to sound like I'm defending Uber in any way, but it's very difficult to tell from that article exactly what they did wrong here. It seems quite possible that this is what happened:

1. police turn up at Uber with a warrant
2. Uber pre-emptively locks down their computer system pending confirmation that the police have the authority to demand to be able to use it
3. it turns out that the police don't actually have that authority
4. the police go away
5. the police later come back with a better warrant, and get what they want.

If so... well, I'm not going to condemn them too harshly for expecting the police to follow the law. Laws affecting cross-border seizure of information (which this could have involved, if the police had used the Montreal computers to download information from the US - it seems that that was what they wanted to do) are really complicated and it wouldn't surprise me if there was a defect in the warrant. Warrants get screwed up all the time.

On the other hand, maybe Uber was in the wrong at step 3. This seems to be the judgement referred to in the article; unfortunately it's mostly in French and I have no idea what it says, but in the absence of context I'm not inclined to take the quotes from the hit piece at face value.
The three people with knowledge of the program say they believe Ripley’s use was justified in some cases because police outside the U.S. didn’t always come with warrants or relied on broad orders to conduct fishing expeditions.
I bet they did.
But the program was a closely guarded secret. Its existence was unknown even to many workers in the Uber offices being raided.
"Closely guarded secret"? Until the first time it was used, presumably.
Later versions of Ripley gave Uber the ability to selectively provide information to government agencies that searched the company’s foreign offices. At the direction of company lawyers, security engineers could select which information to share with officials who had warrants to access Uber’s systems, the people say.
Another way to put this would be "Uber sought legal advice to ensure that it provided only the documents it was required to, and used the program to provide those documents".


I'm happy to believe that Uber is doing all kinds of terrible things (in addition to the terrible things it does that are already widely known), but I'll need better reasons to do so than the ones in this article.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:37 AM on January 13 [6 favorites]


Rough translation from the Montreal judgement:

In addition, the remote restart of computers during the execution of search warrants is significant. Upon the issuance of new search warrants, this conduct, which has all of the characteristics of an attempt to obstruct justice, allowed the issuing judge to conclude that Uber wanted to remove any evidence of their illegal conduct regarding the tax authorities.

(Hah, I hadn't even read the original link and still came up with the same translation re: obstruction of justice. /preens)
posted by juliebug at 1:17 AM on January 13 [3 favorites]


Uber can be 100% Randian black holes and Amnesty can be God's angels themselves and it wouldn't change the point much

I find that if you can't make your point without pretending that the business in question is a spherical cow, it's usually because your point is incoherent and/or only valid in a world where spherical cows exist.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 1:24 AM on January 13


And to explain why I referred to it as a comparison: the comment was carefully phrased not to make an explicit comparison between the two organizations, and instead to rely on the implicit assumption that the reader must consider Amnesty International and Uber to be comparable entities. Just to help you understand how that worked, consider this alternate version:

If this were about an adorable kitten with a mouse friend, rather than Uber, I doubt there would be so much outrage.

Does that still convey the same point? If not, why not?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 1:33 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Rough translation from the Montreal judgement:

Thanks - I don't know too much about the legal system in Quebec, but it looks to me like the appeal judge is very specifically deciding that it was reasonable for the judge who issued the second warrant (the successful one) to consider, for the purpose of issuing the warrant, that there was some basis for suspecting that "Uber wanted to shield evidence of its illegal activities" and that Uber's behaviour showed "all the characteristics of an attempt to obstruct justice".

I'm pretty sure that's not the same (from the perspective of either judge) as concluding that those things actually happened, but that isn't a nuance you'd get from reading the article.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 2:40 AM on January 13


I think the point is that you can't have one set of rules for companies and organizations you don't like, and one set of rules for companies or organizations you do. Or at least, the law can't (well, at least in our system it can't; I'm willing to go out on a limb and extend that to "probably shouldn't", generally).

There are a lot of organizations I can imagine where this sort of technology would be lauded.

Uber is probably, in the long run, eating the seed corn, though. This sort of thing is only going to push countries towards laws and regulations that require customer data to be stored in accessible datacenters in their own country, and probably even do encryption key escrow and other shenanigans. The Chinese are already pushing for policies like that. (Not that it matters; US corporations have already proved repeatedly that they'd sell their grandparents to an organ farm for access to the Chinese market, so the only question is whether those policies are going to end up being economically self-defeating for other reasons.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:53 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]


Yes. The point is "Uber is just like Amnesty International except that you don't like what they do". It's a bad comparison. (And if you just can't picture a world where some companies and organizations are subject to different laws than others because of the difference in what they do....check out HIPAA).
posted by the agents of KAOS at 9:04 AM on January 13 [5 favorites]


There are a lot of organizations I can imagine where this sort of technology would be lauded.

I'd say that in a lot of contexts it would be lauded, like in a dictatorship where seizures of information could lead to innocent people being killed. But in a functioning democracy with civil liberties protected by the rule of law, well, even the Grateful Dead would tell you that "if you've got a warrant, I guess you're gonna come in."
posted by Zonker at 11:57 AM on January 13


The mere thwarting of a government's immediate wishes when it has some paperwork cannot be a crime of itself in a free society. Not even when that government is on a list we want to call "functioning democrac[ies] with civil liberties protected by the rule of law"—do I really have to enumerate the sorts of things the countries on that list have done both with and without the paperwork? Even before the most powerful one of them via a near-majority of voters handed over nuclear weapons and the rest to an executive government that advertised itself with, among other things, a plan to round people up by the millions?

It is seriously blowing my mind that so many people are advocating the position that unless you acceed to the government's use of force to (supposedly) collect information, before any sort of adversarial process with an independent advocate for the accused present has taken place in front of a nominally-impartial judicial apparatus of that government, you have placed yourself outside of the law. I would never have expected to find myself apparently a radical for disagreeing with that, on MeFi at least, but this is just another surprise in a long series of surprises during the past few years, I guess.

Yeah, *after* a police raid when both parties have made their case in front of a court, any action no matter how mundane could be determined to be part of a crime and/or illegitimate obstruction of the process of carrying out justice... but we're explicitly talking about what happens before that during the raid.

I haven't said anything about Amnesty International (or even about protecting customer data, for that matter) but I don't think the objective of those comments was to render any comparison with Uber but rather to highlight what the consequences would be of the things articulated here becoming general principles of justice and ways to condemn people for "thinking they're above the law."

Reviewing the thread I'm noticing that an assertion is appears to have been made that the Quebec raid was in connection to a subpoena, which I am not finding in the Bloomberg article nor in a couple of articles from other sources I pulled up to cross-check. My non-legal-person understanding is that a subpoena involves explicit communication of a request to the government's target when it is "served". But even in that case I would expect it to mean that Uber did respond to the government's request with lawyers, which they've been derided as obvious criminals for not doing. (To re-re-reiterate, I personally do think Uber is a dastardly bunch of criminals: my objections to the way this incident is being discussed here have to do with which actions are being construed as a crime or other automatically-punishable infraction against the government's authority.)

And reviewing the thread again...

That's not what happened here though, unless China has somehow co-opted the law enforcement apparatus of Canada, Belgium, and France, as those are the governments referenced in TFA.

Okay, at this point, are we reading different versions of the Bloomberg article, the second link in the OP? The one I'm looking at explicitly mentions a raid or raids against Uber in Hong Kong during which the Ripley tool was deployed—as I pointed at by unambiguously saying when referring to China that it was one of the jurisdictions mentioned in the article.
posted by XMLicious at 2:41 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


> Toddles:
"Ok someone help me out. Ripley is named after this, this, this or the deadly alien virus from Dreamcatcher?"

Or, possibly the AI game player in WarGames: The Dead Code?
posted by Samizdata at 2:43 PM on January 13


> XMLicious:
"Per the article, after the Quebec raid Ubercooperated with a second search warrant that explicitly covered the files and agreed to collect provincial taxes for each ride.Fancy that, the "impossible" was accomplished!

Pretending that a legal request for records is rendered "impossible" because the government can't take those records by force before even asking for them is not only worthy of derision, it's a fundamentally totalitarian mindset.

Again—I don't actually give a shit about Uber, at all. By all means, hunt them down extrajudicially and roast them over hot coals while flaying the flesh from their bones because they "threw the kill switch", even though the government got what it wanted anyway. Make them scream in endless torment for ever even thinking of throwing the kill switch. But let's disentangle the principles here from the entirely reasonable and appropriate lust to righteously condemn and vilify them."


Okay, but I call dibs on their data center electronics!
posted by Samizdata at 2:44 PM on January 13


The mere thwarting of a government's immediate wishes when it has some paperwork cannot be a crime of itself in a free society

Destroying, concealing, or tampering with evidence that is subject to a valid search warrant is absolutely a crime. People are in jail for that right now. If you want the benefits that come with living under the rule of law, you abide by a Court's decision to issue a warrant.
posted by Zonker at 4:39 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]


Destroying, concealing, or tampering with evidence that is subject to a valid search warrant is absolutely a crime.

And we're not discussing any of those things happening. The people in this thread demanding that the authoritah of a government never be disrespected are not bothering to make the effort necessary to restrict their statements to such specific circumstances in the course of demanding obeisance to the majesty of The Law, which is a superlative example of what's wrong with that attitude: the agents of governments empowered to use force cut such corners just as casually.

Did you miss the part where even in the case of Uber, the Quebec government got the evidence a court system decided was due to them? Conflating the encryption and retention of control over private records, with the destruction of records, is exactly what's giving away how full of shit and autocratic people are being here.
posted by XMLicious at 5:51 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]


Destroying, concealing, or tampering with evidence that is subject to a valid search warrant is absolutely a crime.

Right. Did Uber do any of these things? We don't know! In particular, we don't know whether the first warrant was valid, or whether it actually required Uber to allow the police to use Uber's computers to download documents from Uber's international network.

Did it?

All we seem to know is that another judge, and the appeal court, found Uber's abrupt use of its lockdown program to be suspicious enough to justify issuing a second warrant, which Uber complied with. But things can be suspicious without being illegal.

If you want the benefits that come with living under the rule of law, you abide by a Court's decision to issue a warrant.

Yes - but you comply with the warrant that was issued, not the warrant that the police later decide should have been issued. And you expect the police to follow the law as well, even if they happen to be investigating someone unpopular.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 6:13 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


Since you seem to enjoy comparisons, let me posit this one - a few months back, the FBI executed a search warrant against Paul Manafort via a dawn raid on his house, with the specific intent of retrieving a number of computers and the contents thereof. If Manafort had, prior to that seizure, set up a system to lock those machines down to make them inaccessible by the FBI, would you be approving of his actions as justifiable protections agains the dangers of a government out of control, or would you see it as someone trying to frustrate a legitimate investigation?

Something tells me that the former would not be a popular viewpoint.

The people in this thread demanding that the authoritah of a government never be disrespected are not bothering to make the effort necessary to restrict their statements to such specific circumstances in the course of demanding obeisance to the majesty of The Law, which is a superlative example of what's wrong with that attitude: the agents of governments empowered to use force cut such corners just as casually.

Nobody's saying that, so you can stop beating on the strawman you've painted scare words all over, thanks. What people are pointing out is that if you actually believe in the rule of law, then when you're presented with things like regulations or search warrants issued in accordance with them, then you work with them, not flaunt them - something that seems to be baked into Uber's corporate DNA.

And you expect the police to follow the law as well, even if they happen to be investigating someone unpopular.
So, was there any evidence that the authorities were violating the law when executing that first warrant in Montreal? Because from the way the article was written, it looks like the system was designed that the offices were instructed to send the signal to throw the kill switch as soon as authorities stepped in, regardless of if they had legal authority for the search.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:39 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


Since you seem to enjoy comparisons, let me posit this one - a few months back, the FBI executed a search warrant against Paul Manafort via a dawn raid on his house, with the specific intent of retrieving a number of computers and the contents thereof. If Manafort had, prior to that seizure, set up a system to lock those machines down to make them inaccessible by the FBI, would you be approving of his actions as justifiable protections agains the dangers of a government out of control, or would you see it as someone trying to frustrate a legitimate investigation?

Depends on a whole constellation of questions, including: did the FBI have the power to require him to unlock the computers? If so, did he refuse to comply? Were the computers connected to an international network that would have given the FBI access to information belonging to other entities? Would giving the FBI access to that information violate the laws of any foreign jurisdiction? Does the FBI operate under a legal framework that deals with any or all of these questions?

Since we don't know the answers to these questions for the Uber case either, we can't really judge.

Something tells me that the former would not be a popular viewpoint.

The thing is, if you believe in the rule of law only as long as it doesn't protect people you don't like, you don't really believe in the rule of law.

So, was there any evidence that the authorities were violating the law when executing that first warrant in Montreal?

No. They were (as far as I know) fully entitled to ask Uber to give access to their computers. It seems that Uber was also entitled to refuse - or at least, nobody seems to have given any reason for concluding otherwise.

Because from the way the article was written, it looks like the system was designed that the offices were instructed to send the signal to throw the kill switch as soon as authorities stepped in, regardless of if they had legal authority for the search.

Having legal authority "for the search" is not necessarily the same thing as having legal authority to compel Uber's employees to give access to their computers so that the police could download documents from Uber's servers.

Warrants are complicated. Where I am, there's a whole framework for dealing with police powers to use computers to access remotely stored information while executing a search warrant, but they have to get the warrant right in the first place. Is there such a framework in Quebec? Did the police use it correctly? We don't know!
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 9:48 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]


Nobody's saying that, so you can stop beating on the strawman you've painted scare words all over, thanks. What people are pointing out is that if you actually believe in the rule of law...

Look, if you aren't trying to assert some general principle that people should be prohibited from disrespecting the rule of law, why do you keep articulating tests for whether one truly respects or truly believes in it? I don't think what you're saying actually constitutes proof or disproof of such, but do you think true belief in that is a legal requirement?

It sure as hell sounds like you're trying to make claims that range beyond just Uber and this case, or else are conflating moral standards with legal standards. ("Moral" moreso in the sense of moral fiber / strength of character or virtue of character, less than in the right and wrong sense; but as I have said repeatedly, it's undisputed that Uber's moral character is thoroughly impeached.)
posted by XMLicious at 11:37 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


[Folks, maybe cool it with the weirdly attacking each other stuff, and just discuss in a normal way.]
posted by taz (staff) at 11:44 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


I find it pretty easy to tell the difference between MLK in a Birmingham jail or Amnesty International in some dictatorship on the one hand, and Uber / Manafort / the Bonanno Family on the other hand. If you want to disregard the law on moral grounds you need to actually be, y'know, moral. And even then, you go to jail.
posted by Zonker at 5:39 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


I think the take away is, "Investigators, go right for the warrant to install keyloggers without the target company's knowledge"
posted by mikelieman at 6:41 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


If you want to disregard the law on moral grounds you need to actually be, y'know, moral.

But let me guess, the police actually busting down doors do not have to fulfill any requirements involving moral grounds before there's a requirement for people to not protect themselves from the police's desires through doing things like ensuring they retain control over private records—the police decide what they want and file some paperwork, and then their goals and actions in the moment are anointed as "the law" which must not be defied.

Note that by using MLK in a throw-away line you have endorsed the version of "the law" which jailed him for protesting, the 1963 white supremacist state of Alabama where the logo of the Democratic Party which ruled exclusively and prevented blacks from voting still literally had "White Supremacy" written on it. But hey, not a dictatorship, so it fits that criteria you keep mentioning where obeisance is required.

You're one of the people who has been throwing around the phrase "rule of law" above. But if you have one set of rules for the agents of the law and those you've judged as "moral" who engage in nonviolent protest, and another for those protesters doing the same thing whom you judge "non-moral", all in a place with a fundamental right to peaceably assemble, you do not believe in the rule of law. No matter how supposedly easy it is for you to tell the moral from the non-moral.

Fortunately though, scientia colendorum deorum true belief in the rule of law is not a legal requirement.
posted by XMLicious at 1:53 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]


the police actually busting down doors do not have to fulfill any requirements involving moral grounds before there's a requirement for people to not protect themselves from the police's desires through doing things like ensuring they retain control over private records

The police answer to the courts and to the elected government, not individual citizens. So no, you do not have a right to obstruct a search pursuant to a lawful warrant. If the cops conduct a search without a warrant, or if the warrant turns out to be based on lies, the resulting evidence can be excluded from court.

You keep referring to the police "fil[ing] some paperwork." Getting a search warrant from a Court is not "filing paperwork", it's the check against police abuse provided by the Constitution (in the US, or by Act of Parliament in the UK and (I think) in Canada). If a Judge has found probable cause to authorize a search, then you as an individual do not have the right to destroy or conceal evidence. If you think the search is unlawful, you can ask the courts to reject it, or ask the government to change the law. But if you're claiming a right to ignore laws and court decisions with impunity, you're not following Martin Luther King; you're lining up with the Cliven Bundys of the world.

OK, so what about a moral right, aka civil disobedience? My reference to MLK was not a "throw-away", and it certainly does not suggest that I endorsed the law he was jailed under. I don't. He was jailed under an unjust law, and by violating it and accepting the punishment that came with that violation, he showed the country and the world that the law was unjust and eventually got it changed. (Being unjustly jailed is why "Letter from Birmingham Jail" is so powerful. "Letter From on the Lam Somewhere" wouldn't have persuaded anyone.)

That's how civil disobedience works. You break the law, take the punishment that comes with breaking the law, and by doing so you convince society to change the law. Again, I find it very easy to distinguish between King and Uber. Uber was not in any sense protesting against a law that it considered unjust. It was trying to hide the truth from justice. That's not civil disobedience by any stretch of the imagination. That's the Bonanno Family with stock options.
posted by Zonker at 3:14 PM on January 14 [3 favorites]


I think people are operating under a really different impression of search warrants than the one I have. Search warrant means that you can’t physically prevent the police from entering your place of business and attempting to see the thing that they think you have. But a search warrant only applies to what is specifically mentioned in the warrant. It’s not a free-for-all enabling the police to to to do and take anything but they possibly can at the location.

At least as I understand it, if they have a search warrant for your house, that doesn’t mean they can automatically take DNA samples from your person unless the warrant specifically mentions that. If they have a search warrant for your office, that doesn’t mean they have a search warrant for the data stored on your phone. They may be able to take the phone, but they can’t compel you to open it. However, from my experience with the police, that doesn’t mean they won’t try. They do this to activists all the time. When they arrest an activist, they’ll go through their phone if they can, whether or not they have the actual authority to do so.

I am really troubled by the fact that people seem to be wanting to extend the police powers that they do not actually have. The police do not have the ability, through gaining a search warrant for the room, to compel access to any computer system the people inside the room may have been authorized to access prior to entering it. That is not how search warrants work. But it is how police intimidation works, because police play fast and loose with what warrants mean and intimidate people by saying they’ll be charged with obstruction.

If data is stored elsewhere, that may make peoples jobs harder, but the purpose of the citizenry is not to make law enforcement jobs easier. It’s not a requirement. It’s nice if they do, but acting as though not doing so is some kind of crazy violation is just...weird.
posted by corb at 7:01 PM on January 14 [3 favorites]


I find it pretty easy to tell the difference between MLK in a Birmingham jail or Amnesty International in some dictatorship on the one hand, and Uber / Manafort / the Bonanno Family on the other hand.

Of course. Those are trivial examples; across any spectrum, it's always easiest to identify examples that lie at the extremes of either end. The difficult part is in the middle.

Simply declaring "I know it when I see it" is a rather poor general rule, for lack of scalability if nothing else. If you look at the examples where the law has fallen back on that as a test, it generally fares pretty poorly, however reasonable it might seem on its face in a particular situation. (E.g. the case where that phrase famously comes from, in the context of US jurisprudence, Jacobellis v. Ohio, only lasted about two years before the Court saw fit to make a more rigorous test as to what constitutes obscenity, and then only seven years before they did it again, and we got the current "Miller test". As it turns out, drawing clear lines is hard work!)

There are lots of things that appear on casual observation to be easily discriminable binaries but in actuality tend to be very difficult to separate once you dig into the edge cases. You can spend an almost limitless amount of effort trying to draw a line around the fractally-nested, often blatantly subjective, border between the two, or you can instead take a step back and make rules that don't require such a subjective delineation to function. For the most part, the Anglosphere legal tradition typically takes this route by default, and probably wisely so. There are lots of cases where I can think of that it doesn't, and they're often not exactly our society shining its brightest.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:37 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


Just as there is no destruction of evidence or concealing of evidence involved here, civil disobedience is unrelated to this discussion, and certainly not moral rights.

The eager obedience to people with badges you are claiming is required—for a citizen who has been targeted with the use of force by the police, specifically targeted when their legal counsel is not going to be around, to "work with" the police officers to get those agents of the government what they want, immediately, without any involvement of lawyers, rather than protecting their own interests—that obedience is not required, at all. Perhaps that would be so if we were talking about the sorts of places where, as you claim is generally the case, the police don't have to answer to citizens; but that is not true to my knowledge in the societies that have been mentioned in this thread besides China and 1963 Alabama.

How about rather than bringing up members of the mafia, or Cliven Bundy, or Martin Luther King, Jr. while ignoring the role that substituting easy moral judgments for consistent application of the law played in civil rights in the United States, or Uber in the OP case where the government got what it wanted and nothing punitive was done to them, you find a case in a "functioning democracy with civil liberties protected by the rule of law" where the police's use of force was stymied when a citizen encrypted, protected, and retained control of their private records, and later in concert with their legal counsel delivered the desired information upon an actual request for it, but was still actually punished specifically for that, for the supposed infraction of "trying to hide the truth from justice"?

Then we can examine the circumstances and the kind of society where the actions you are faulting as obviously criminal are treated as such, without any distractions from famous people involved.
posted by XMLicious at 9:56 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


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