The Banning of Ridesharing Apps Violates the Human Rights to Science and Free Speech

by | Jan 19, 2018

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About Esteban Russell and Leonardo Orlanski

Esteban Russell, graduated from University of Buenos Aires (2000) as attorney and obtained a postgraduate degree in Telecommunications Law (Austral University, 2001), in Corporate Law (University of Buenos Aires, 2003-2004) and a Specialization in Administrative Law and Economic Regulation (Universidad Católica Argentina, 2006-2007). He is a partner at Orlanski & Russell Abogados.

Earlier on this year, a local court of Buenos Aires issued an injunction blocking the Uber app, electronic payment methods and forbidding Google and Apple to host the app on its apps stores, and Facebook to advertise Uber. The decision’s logic is as wrong as straightforward: Uber must be blocked (and banned) since its drivers “occupy public spaces to engage in commercial activity”. This misdemeanor was established to forbid street selling, but in a creative way has been applied to Uber drivers’ activity. This decision violates the right to science and the right to free speech, since these human rights play an important role in protecting innovation.

With some minor differences in wording, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (art. 27), the ICESCR (art. 15) and regional human rights documents proclaim the right of everyone “[t]o enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications”, usually known as the right to science. This right has not been at the forefront of the minds of human rights scholars or practitioners. However, the exponential increase of scientific innovations and the fundamental changes that the internet has brought suggests that  this oversight might be coming to an end.

In 2012, Ms. Farida Shaheed, then UN Special Rapporteur on cultural rights, issued a report on the right to science. A meaningful paragraph explains the importance of scientific advancement, stating that“[n]ew scientific knowledge and innovations increase available options, thereby strengthening people’s capacity to envisage a better future for which access to specific technologies may sometimes be pivotal”. In addition, in 2012 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights cited the right to science in a health related case. It is clear that its importance is growing.

Free speech is a better known right and needs no introduction. It “applies fully to communications, ideas and information distributed through the Internet”.

Let’s examine the central issue: what is the link between these two rights and ridesharing platforms?

First, as any other right, the right to science should be accessible to everyone, without discrimination. The abovementioned 2012 report suggests that, within this right, special attention should be paid to “scientific advances likely to have a significant impact on human rights, such as electricity, information and communication technologies, nanotechnology and synthetic biology”. These goals should not exclude those small impact actions that, when aggregated, have a massive effect in huge populations’ living standards, such are those related to transportation in big metropolis. If scientific progress allows us to improve the time we spend travelling each day, our health, our economy and the environment, why should users of apps such as Lyft or Uber be excluded from the protection of the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications?

This kind of service, rather than banned, should be made more accessible to most people, especially low income populations (countries with lower levels of financial inclusion should design policies to strengthen access for the low income population to these services–something in which some Mexican states, with a 56% of adults not owning a bank account, that forbid cash use to pay Lyft or Uber, fail to do).

Second, attempts to ban these platforms through internet blockades collide against free speech and internet architectural principles. The Internet has been a massive force for innovation, that allows people to create “content, applications and services in a decentralized manner”. Blocking is an extreme measure, the application of which should be saved only for certain type of speech, narrowly defined: war propaganda and the advocacy of hatred that constitutes the incitement of violence; the direct and public incitement of genocide; and child pornography. Thus, although state authorities can and should regulate these apps as they deal with transportation, they cannot use disproportionate means such as internet censorship or blockades (the form of an extreme blocking such as the one ordered in Argentina), although it is not turning out to be effective.

The idea of banning ridesharing apps, or regulating them so as to distorting their well-functioning or limiting their ability to reach users faces potential drawbacks when analysing it from a human rights law perspective. If, as shown above, these apps deliver the promised results, rather than obstructed by governments, they should be encouraged, especially to reach those in need.

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  1. kay

    Uber is a POOR EMPLOYER and they are NOT scientific advancement. Uber is a way of taking away employee rights and disguising it as owning your own business. They bully their drivers through the ap. They do not take responsibility. They basically put the whole risk, all the costs, taxes. etc on the shouolders of their drivers, who they dont ca<re about. They constantly onboard people becasue they get paid no matter who drives. While workers put up the costs of cars, licences, taxes, phone, data. Their ap never works, bad maps, sometimes they dont pay you correct amounts or missed rides altogether. It is humanly impossible to track all the rides. When you call them for help, they have ppl answering the phone from foreign countries in which they exxpoloit cheap labour from and can not address any actual concerns, all they do is take notes and do not help you. They do not advocate against law enforcement for their drivers so we are saw as personal drivers getting tickerts, causing the actual income to be lower than minimum wage once you come to after tax and costs (I have an 8 year degree in business and govt) I was happy to take a job with no boss as I have been bullied my whole career in many different offices. So I challenged a ticket to uber because they failed to provide me with the sticker needed to drive legilatively even though i visited their hub to ensure I had everything. When i challenged them, they started bullying me through the ap, taking away my money and rides dropped significantly. My ap started making me take a picture of my face everytime i got into my car which is inappropriate and against my privacy rights, especially since they did it on purpose after I started asking for help with the tickets that i got due to their lack of following onboarding protocol. They forced my ap to stop and force me to go into the hub. They purposely started taking away and causing stress until I quit. These aps are giving leeway to faceless bullying and remo9val of our human and employment rights. They use technology as a way of never having to listen or care about employyees and making money will giving no rights. I have done an excellent job driving for them, but it didnt matter, they just start bullying you if you dont do exactly what they want. its pretty evil in fact. The ap also lures drivers to a specific area by claiming surges, as you drive closr and closer the "cloud" of the surge disappears as you drive into it. many things wrong with this… For true human rights to take place they would either have to have REAL names and faces for people to call that they would be responsible managers, they would have to have a limit per how many drivers they can onboard and have working at a time, to protect the wagtes of the drivers, they would have to deal with leglative boideis to ensure their drivers are treated with human rights. And if they are not going to have their maps correct, they should be paying for safty glass in the cars, as we have to pick up drunk people and sometimes the ap takes ppl down back allys. They would have to stop hiring out of country to service the area. and many more things to bring uber up to human rights standards. This excuse for shiny new technology that does more harm to human rights then it does to job and value creation. I was all for uber and still enjoy making my own schedule. but i do not enjoy being bullied and demeaned by a computer while doing an excellent job that I get no credibility for except some comments on the ap

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