State attorney general files lawsuit against Uber for failing to report data breach

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Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed a multi-million dollar consumer protection lawsuit against ride sharing company Uber, alleging thousands of violations of the state’s data breach notification law.

When a data breach puts people at risk, businesses must inform them.

Bob Ferguson, Attorney General

Uber discovered a data breach potentially affecting 57 million passengers and drivers around the world, including the names and driver’s license numbers of at least 10,888 Uber drivers in Washington.

Under a 2015 amendment to the state’s data breach law, consumers must be notified within 45 days of a breach, and the Attorney General’s Office also must be notified within 45 days if the breach affects 500 or more Washingtonians. This is the first lawsuit filed under the revised statute.

“Washington law is clear: When a data breach puts people at risk, businesses must inform them,” Ferguson said. “Uber’s conduct has been truly stunning. There is no excuse for keeping this information from consumers.”

The complaint, filed Nov. 28 in King County Superior Court, alleges thousands of violations of Washington’s data breach law by failing to notify affected drivers and the Attorney General’s Office within 45 days of the breach.

Uber debuted in the Tri-Cities last year.

In November 2016, an individual contacted Uber claiming he had accessed Uber’s user information. Uber investigated and confirmed that person and one other individual had in fact accessed the company’s files, including the names, email addresses and telephone numbers of about 50 million passengers worldwide. If Uber’s assessment of the compromised data is correct, this type of information does not require notification under Washington’s law.
However, the hackers also obtained the names and driver’s license numbers of about 7 million drivers for the company. About 600,000 of those drivers live in the United States, and at least 10,888 live in Washington.

Uber notified the Attorney General’s Office of the breach Nov. 21, 2017, roughly 372 days after it discovered the breach. Rather than reporting the breach as required by law, the company has admitted to paying the hackers to destroy the stolen data.

The lawsuit does not address any data security issues that may have led to the breach. The lawsuit does not preclude future action on other issues.

The office argues each day Uber failed to report for each individual qualifies as a separate violation under the law. Ferguson’s lawsuit asks for civil penalties of up to $2,000 per violation, which should result in a penalty in the millions of dollars. The state also asks for recovery of its costs and fees.

Ferguson updated Washington’s data breach notification laws with agency requested legislation passed in 2015. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Zack Hudgins (D-Tukwila) and Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia).

Washington has two data breach laws: One applying to individuals and businesses, the other for local and state government agencies. The laws are essentially the same and require notification to Washingtonians at risk of harm because of a security breach that includes personal information, meaning someone’s name and any of the following:

Social Security number; driver’s license number or Washington identification card number; or bank account number or credit or debit card number, in combination with any required security code, access code, or password that would permit access to an individual’s account.

Since reporting began in 2015, the Attorney General’s Office has produced annual reports examining the data from the previous year. The most recent report found that breaches affected nearly 3 million Washingtonians, more than six times the number affected in the previous 12 months.