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Uber 'kill switch' blocked authorities from IT systems

Leaked documents suggest the firm engaged in a sophisticated global operation to block law enforcement from accessing sensitive data

Uber deployed a kill switch at least 12 times in various jurisdictions to prevent law enforcement officers and regulators from accessing sensitive data and core IT systems. 

When authorities were raiding Uber’s offices in at least six countries, the Silicon Valley giant activated a mechanism to draw the curtain over crucial parts of its business.

The instructions to cut access to IT systems in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, India, Hungary and Romania were part of a sophisticated global operation, according to leaked files seen by the Guardian.

Emails show that Uber’s former chief executive, Travis Kalanick, and its former legal director in Europe, Zac de Kievit, instructed the company’s IT staff to “kill” access to computer systems, according to the newspaper. Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, who was part of Uber’s executive team, issued similar instructions to IT staff.

Uber told the Guardian its software “should never have been used to thwart legitimate regulatory action”, while Kalanick’s spokesperson said the kill switch wasn’t used to obstruct justice, while Kalanick had never been charged for obstruction of justice.

During a raid in Paris, the Guardian reports, executives pretended to appear confused as officers roamed through offices demanding to see critical data. They spoke about severing access between the office and the firm’s primary IT system while the police were searching computers for evidence. 

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The documents show Uber developed this so-called kill switch during a turbulent period in which the firm’s offices were being raided frequently by law enforcement operatives across the world. They were, at the time, collecting data that may be used to suspend or shut down the taxi service. 

For example, Uber ran into trouble in London when it was banned from operating due to several factors including gaps in its IT system. The company was allowed to operate in the city again in 2020 after plugging these gaps, while taking further steps and eventually securing a 30-month licence to operate in March 2022.

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