Uber used secret tool to thwart law enforcement in foreign countries

Uber used secret tool to thwart law enforcement in foreign countries

Uber used secret tool to thwart law enforcement in foreign countries

Uber is reported to have used remote shutdowns of computers to thwart police raids.

The Uber HQ team overseeing Ripley could remotely change passwords and otherwise lock up data on company-owned smartphones, laptops, and desktops as well as shut down the devices.

The ride-sharing company used Ripley at least two dozen times in 2015 and 2016 in countries including Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Hong Kong, according to Bloomberg.

Background: Uber has ruffled regulatory feathers around the world by not abiding by taxi license rules and classifying its drivers as independent contractors rather than works. Last March, the New York Times revealed the company used secretive software called Greyball in some cities where Uber wasn't yet allowed to operate.

Called "Ripley" after Sigourney Weaver's character in the film Aliens, the program was a real-life application of her character's famous line, "Nuke the entire site from orbit". Employees remotely tipped off a special team at the company's headquarters in San Francisco, who then used this tool to remotely log off every computer in the Montreal office, in effect blocking the authorities from obtaining the records they sought, according to Bloomberg.

The investigation is focusing on an Uber program, internally known as 'Hell, ' that could track drivers working for rival service Lyft Inc, the WSJ said, citing people familiar with the investigation.

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In May 2015 about 10 investigators for the Quebec tax authority burst into Uber Technologies Inc's office in Montreal.

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

Later versions of the system gave Uber the ability to offer selective access to authorities, presumably to stop anyone trying to snoop around places not covered by warrants and court orders. The three people with knowledge of the tool believe it was justified, however, since they claim authorities outside the U.S. didn't always come with warrants and often relied on rather broad orders.

In the report, people with knowledge of Uber's operations say that the system, called Ripley, was a closely guarded secret. The only reason Uber stands out, in this case, is because they've repeatedly abused the system to intentionally set back investigators, which could amount to obstruction of justice in some instances. "When it comes to government investigations, it's our policy to cooperate with all valid searches and requests for data".

Ripley isn't the only program Uber used to thwart local authorities.

Some Uber employees also felt the system slowed investigations that were legally sound, Bloomberg said. Apparently paging that number goes straight to specially trained staff who can remotely lock computer systems in Uber's offices across the world.

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