New York Cabbie Says GPS Tracking Used to Punish Drivers

New York City’s taxi commission was accused in a lawsuit of using the global positioning system to track the movements of cabbies in violation of their constitutional rights.

The NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission uses GPS devices to gather information on cabbies in violation of their Fourth Amendment right against unlawful searches and to prosecute drivers for violations that can result in loss of cab licenses and the imposition of large fines, according to a complaint filed yesterday in federal court in Manhattan. The case was brought against the commission’s chairman, David Yassky, by driver Hassan El-Nahal, who seeks to represent other cabbies in a class action, or group lawsuit.

Federal judges in New York have rejected at least two challenges to the use of GPS devices in taxis since 2007.

“The TLC never stated its desire to track drivers for investigatory purposes of any kind,” El-Nahal said in his complaint. “Indeed it disavowed that intention in statements on its website.”

In September 2007, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan denied a request by some cabbies to block the city’s installation of credit-card readers and GPS devices in their vehicles. Later the same year, U.S. District Judge Denise Cote ruled there was no Fourth Amendment protection for information about the location and movement of cars on public thoroughfares and that taxis were subject to regulation by the TLC, according to city lawyers.

Drivers’ Union

In 2008, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a union representing yellow cab drivers, agreed to settle claims against the city over new technology systems installed in cars beginning the previous year.

El-Nahal seeks the restoration of taxi driver licenses that have been revoked, the recovery of lost income, the repayment of fines he said were “fraudulently” secured by the taxi commission and unspecified damages.

“We’ve only just been made aware of this suit,” Gabriel Taussig, head of the city’s law department, said in a statement. “On its face, it appears that it’s trying to reopen an issue already decided in the city’s favor years ago.”

The lawsuit also names as defendants the city of New York and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

GPS devices can send text messages to drivers in emergencies and help them find passenger destinations, the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission has said.

The case is Hassan El-Nahal v. Yassky, 13-cv-03690, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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