Thursday San Francisco News Roundup
Prosecutors Say Uber Hired Drivers Convicted of Murder, Sexual Assault, and Other Felonies
Prosecutors say Uber drivers convicted of murder, sexual assault, driving under the influence and other felonies passed Uber’s “industry-leading” background checks.
Since the filing of the original complaint eight months ago, the Los Angeles and San Francisco district attorney’s offices have received records of Uber drivers who were issued citations by airport police at San Francisco and Los Angeles International Airports and by the Los Angeles Police Department’s Bandit Cab detail.
These records, while representing only a small sample of citations issued to Uber drivers, uncovered more than 25 Uber drivers who had criminal records or driving records that disqualified them from driving for Uber.
These Uber drivers nonetheless passed Uber’s background check, according to an amended complaint filed jointly by the San Francisco and Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office against the San Francisco-based ride service company on Tuesday.
The criminal histories of these drivers include convictions for murder, sex offenses, kidnapping, assault, robbery, burglary, fraud, and identity theft.
Driving records include convictions for driving under the influence, driving with a suspended license, and reckless driving, as well as drivers with more than three DMV points within the preceding three years, according to the complaint.
The amended complaint against Uber alleges that the company allows drivers with disqualifying criminal histories to pass Uber’s background check and that Uber’s background check process fails to uncover many categories of sex offenders.
The complaint further alleges that Uber has misled consumers online and is “making untrue or misleading representations regarding the measures it takes to ensure customer safety in order to induce people to get into a stranger’s car,” among other allegations.
Uber is valued around $50 billion by investors for its services providing prearranged transportation for compensation using an online-enabled smartphone application to connect passengers with drivers.
Last year Uber maintained that at their company “Every ridesharing and livery driver in the U.S. is thoroughly screened through a process that includes county, federal, and multi-state criminal background checks that go back as far as the driver’s state’s law allows, and ongoing reviews of drivers’ motor vehicle records throughout their time driving with Uber,” according to the complaint.
That language has since been watered down, with today’s online version omitting claims such as “thoroughly screened” and “criminal background checks that go back as far as the driver’s state’s law allows.”
Joe Sullivan, Uber’s chief security officer, has previously stated that the background checks consist of running an applicant’s name and address through databases identified as “the National Sex Offender Registry, National Criminal Search, and several different databases used to flag suspected terrorists,” according to the complaint.
Uber’s statements that it searches the National Sex Offender Registry are false, according to the complaint, because that particular database is available only to law-enforcement personnel.
Uber uses the National Sex Offender Public Website, which does not detect registered sex offenders such as certain California offenders convicted of child pornography offenses where the victims are between the ages of 16 and 18, sexual exploitation of a child, employment of a minor for sexual exploitation, misdemeanor child molestation, felony sexual battery, and sex offenses against a grandchild, child, stepchild or sibling not involving penetration.
The amended complaint states that Uber’s misleading representations present a special danger to public safety as more and more parents are allowing their teenage children to ride in Uber vehicles unaccompanied.
“Uber’s false and misleading statements are so woven into the fabric of Uber’s safety narrative that they render Uber’s entire safety message misleading,” the complaint alleges.
Some of the most alarming records uncovered during the discovery period was an Uber driver who was convicted of second-degree murder in Los Angeles in 1982, an Uber Driver who was convicted of committing lewd or lascivious acts against a child under 14 in 1999 and an Uber Driver who was convicted of sexual exploitation of children in Wyoming in 2005.
Other drivers have been convicted of kidnapping for ransom with a firearm, identity theft, and burglary while many more have been convicted of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, according to the amended complaint.
The complaint states that these “systemic failures” with Uber’s background checks even allowed serious and violent felony convictions to go completely unnoticed by the company.
Comcast Rolls Out $10 Monthly Wireless Internet For City’s Low-Income Seniors
San Francisco city officials gathered with Comcast executives and senior citizens Wednesday to launch a new affordable Internet plan aimed at decreasing isolation among low-income senior citizens in San Francisco through access to high-speed Internet in their homes.
David L. Cohen, senior executive vice-president of the Comcast Corporation celebrated the launch of a new San Francisco pilot program with senior citizens at Chinatown’s Lady Shaw Senior Center and discussed Comcast’s goal of closing the digital literacy divide.
San Francisco and Palm Beach, Florida will be the first two U.S. cities where low-income seniors will be able to purchase Internet service for $9.95 a month plus tax, according to Cohen.
He said the pilot programs were inspired by Comcast’s first iteration of their Internet Essentials plan, which has brought wireless Internet into the homes of more than 500,000 low-income families with school age children since it began in 2011.
However, Cohen noted that nationally only 20 percent of families eligible for the low-cost Internet through Comcast have participated in the program. He encouraged anyone with children to apply for the program. He said Comcast is also providing families with low-cost computers and free Internet literacy training.
Cohen said that when the program began Comcast was providing families with 1.5 Megabits per second (Mbps) Internet connections and is now able to provide a faster Internet speed of 10 Mbps.
For the $9.95 per month plan, customers do not have to sign a contract, nor pay an installation fee. A free wireless router is also included in the price.
Cohen said providing Internet to seniors would help alleviate senior isolation and allow the elderly to improve their quality of life.
“Now, with our low-income senior citizen pilot in San Francisco, we are opening up a second front in our attack on the digital divide so these seniors can get connected to the Internet in their homes and use it to communicate with friends, family, access healthcare and financial information, and enjoy online news and entertainment,” Cohen said.
San Francisco Supervisor Katy Tang, who represents the city’s Sunset District, said Comcast’s pilot program begins to close the digital literacy gap and will allow seniors to connect with family and friends online.
State Assemblyman and former president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors David Chiu said Wednesday that there is a “very real digital divide” that especially impacts seniors, low-income individuals and immigrants.
Chiu encouraged the Asian senior citizens who reside at Lady Shaw Senior Center, an independent living apartment complex in Chinatown, to take advantage of computer literacy classes and learn to use the Internet to communicate with friends and family in the United State and abroad.
Chiu even gave the residents at Lady Shaw Senior Center his email address and encouraged them to write him emails.
Anni Chung, the president and chief executive officer of Self-Help for the Elderly, which owns and operates Lady Shaw Senior Center, said she is thrilled that Comcast chose San Francisco for its pilot program for seniors.
“We waited a long time, but finally our dreams are coming true,” Chung said, explaining that many seniors would like to be more connected and learn new skills.
Tracy Lee, a disabled woman who has been online for two years now, but still doesn’t have it at her home, said she likes to email with family, listen to music, watch movies and find new patterns for crocheting and knitting.
She said she hopes Comcast will expand its affordable Internet services to low-income individuals with disabilities.
Today’s Weather Forecast
Today will be cloudy in the morning with patchy fog and possible drizzle. Highs will be in the mid 60s to lower 70s with west winds reaching 5 to 15 miles per hour.
Tonight will be partly cloudy in the evening and then will become cloudy with patchy fog and drizzle after midnight. Lows will be in the upper 50s and west winds will reach 10 to 15 miles per hour.
Friday will be cloudy in the morning with patchy fog and drizzle and then will become partly cloudy. Highs will be in the 60s and southwest winds will reach 10 to 15 miles per hour.