Los Angeles used Signal to plan controversial vehicle-tracking program

Officials at the Los Angeles Department of Transportation appear to have used an encrypted messaging service to discuss a vehicle-tracking program that some civil liberties groups say could be used to identify individual drivers.

According to documents obtained by the Los Angeles Daily News, the department’s general manager, Seleta Reynolds, along with other department employees, spoke with technology consultants using Signal, an encrypted messaging app that allows users to delete messages automatically. The officials reportedly used the app to discuss a controversial program that allows cities, including Los Angeles, to collect trip data from dockless bikes, scooters, mopeds and ride-hailing vehicles in near real time.

Through a set of APIs that LADOT developed in 2018 called Mobility Data Specifications, or MDS, mobility companies like Uber and Lyft can transmit data to cities about where and when a trip starts and ends and potentially the route that a vehicle takes. Reynolds and other employees, according to the LA Daily News, used the app to hide conversations about MDS with consultants such as John Ellis, a former Ford and Motorola executive, that should have been public record. Instead, just weeks after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the agency for Fourth Amendment violations, the conversations are gone forever.