Uber for Business

How Uber in London works with the Metropolitan Police

August 13, 2017 / United Kingdom

With millions of trips in London every month, the safety of riders and drivers using the Uber app is our top priority.

We use technology to bring accountability and transparency to every ride. When people book a car through Uber they get the photo and name of their licensed private hire driver as well as the vehicle model and registration number. Our GPS technology also means that every trip – more than one million in the capital each week – is electronically recorded.

Thankfully incidents on trips booked through the app are extremely rare, but the safety features we have built in mean that if something does happen we have detailed information which we share with the authorities. This has proved vital to police investigations – not just over incidents that occur on a trip booked through our app, but in many cases where the more than 40,000 drivers and 3 million riders who regularly use Uber have been witnesses to serious incidents and crimes in our city.  

The Sunday Times today reports a letter from a Metropolitan Police officer to Transport for London earlier this year. While we were surprised by this letter – as we don’t feel it reflects the good working relationship we have with the police and the extensive support we provide – we would welcome further collaboration and to establish how we can do more to strengthen our existing processes.

Below we explain in more detail how Uber in London works with the Metropolitan Police.

Supporting the Metropolitan Police

Our team includes experienced former Met Police officers who work closely with the police and act quickly to respond to complaints on the rare occasions they arise. This team is focussed solely on working with the police and law enforcement authorities both on specific investigations and longer term collaboration. There are many examples where our collaboration and technology have been able to prevent serious crimes and bring perpetrators to justice.

Over the last six months, in an extensive partnership with the Metropolitan Police, we have made a significant investment to create a dedicated Uber Law Enforcement Portal – a website where police can quickly and securely request trip data and other information that may be critical to solving cases. Uber keeps detailed records of all bookings, licensed drivers and vehicles, as well as details of complaints, and these are all available upon request from any police officer.

Although the letter from the officer makes reference to a Data Protection Act request being asked for from the police, this was a misunderstanding on one isolated occasion, which was rectified within 24 hours, and all information requests are dealt with quickly by our dedicated team. In fact the use of DPA requests has now been adopted by the police as their preferred way to get the information they need.

Some recent examples of where Uber has worked closely and collaboratively with the police include:

  • Routine investigations: Uber works closely with the Metropolitan Police when they request information during routine investigations. These requests cover a wide range of police investigations which do not necessarily relate directly to journeys booked through the Uber app, such as missing persons enquiries and offences alleged to have taken place immediately before or after Uber trips. We seek to support all police enquiries and where necessary attend court to give evidence in support of prosecutions. Specific case details are confidential however recent examples include helping to identify the movements and identity of suspects fleeing crime scenes, identifying the suspects and witnesses to both on and off platform offences and providing technical evidence to high level fraud investigations.
  • Counter-terrorism: Uber liaised directly with investigative teams during both the Westminster and London Bridge terror incidents implementing messaging and technical measures to direct vehicles and customers away from the scene. Subsequently Uber worked to actively identify tier one witnesses, including two significant witnesses, and carried out appeals for information and dash camera footage from thousands of drivers in the area. We recently hosted a training session from the MPS Counter Terrorism unit on counter terrorism awareness for licensed private hire drivers who use our app.
  • Serious crime: Uber regularly provides direct support to proactive investigations of serious crime and have helped to support a number of convictions. We have also worked with the MPS sexual offences, gangs and homicide teams, supporting investigations and providing technical training to a cohort of specialists, and digital investigators. Police previously lacked in depth understanding of the technical characteristics of the Uber app and this training has led to a significant increase in the identification of obscure but vital lines of enquiry. For more complex cases our highly trained investigations team will offer direct support to investigators helping to conduct in-depth enquiries of our data to identify suspects and behaviour.

Uber’s approach to reporting

Uber will make a third party report to police in circumstances where a serious crime is currently happening and the customer is unable to do so. However, Uber does not routinely report incidents retrospectively to the police on behalf of others – we advise those involved to make a report themselves and then assist the police with any subsequent enquiries.

We believe the choice of whether or not to make a police report should sit with the reporter/victim. We understand that there could be all sorts of reasons why they may or may not wish to report the incident to the police and have worked closely with women’s advocacy groups on this issue. This is an incredibly complex issue and we always strive to get the right balance between supporting the police in their investigations, while preserving the rights of individuals.  

If there is a serious incident involving a licensed driver they are prevented from using our app. We always inform the regulator, Transport for London, when a driver is deactivated from the Uber app for any form of unsatisfactory conduct and the reason why we have done so, and work closely with them to provide any further information that would be of use.

Incidents described in the letter

While Uber has a strict privacy policy we feel it’s necessary to share some more information with regards to the incidents described in the letter as they are not as straightforward as the letter implies.

‘Firearm’ incident

Although a complaint was made alleging possession of a firearm, in fact the driver was not in possession of pepper spray but in possession of a can of criminal identifier spray – which can be purchased legally within the UK. The driver voluntarily attended a police station immediately following the incident and provided a detailed report. The police have since confirmed that there was no crime committed and no further action taken.

Sexual assault incident:

A complaint was made that, following a trip, a driver got out of the car and hugged a female passenger. This violates our community guidelines and the driver was prevented from using our app while we investigated. He was subsequently given clear direction concerning his alleged behaviour prior to being reinstated on the app. When a second complaint was made some time later, of the same driver touching a rider’s leg, it was decided that we could no longer maintain our partnership with the driver and he was permanently stopped from using our app. At the same time we informed TfL of the allegations in order that they could consider revoking his private hire licence and prevent him from working with any other operators in London. We deal with all complaints on a case by case basis but swiftly identify and deal with any pattern of alleged behaviour such as this. As stated above, we also advise individuals to report incidents to the police and support them in doing so.

At Uber we are proud of the close working relationship we have with the police, which has become more and more important as we have become a bigger part of day-to-day life in London. We are always looking to collaborate more closely with the police and other stakeholders, and are of course open to feedback about how we can further strengthen our existing processes in such a vital and complex area.