In Google’s lawsuit against Uber as to alleged theft of self-driving car technology, Uber sought to hold a hearing in camera, closed to the public. Judge Alsup concluded that Uber sought confidentiality not for any proper purpose permitted udner law, but to avoid embarrassment. From the court transcript for March 26, 2017:
Mr. Gonzalez (for Uber): Your Honor, the reason why we wanted it in chambers is because of the adverse impact that we think it would have on our client. If ther’s a headline tomorrow saying this guy is asserting the Fifth Amendment —
The Court: Listen, please don’t do this to me again. There’s going to be a lot of adverse headlines in this case on both sides. And I can’t stop that that.
[T]he public has a right — in fact, this whole transcript, I’m going to make it public.
Details in The Verge
In a 30 minute podcast on Legal Talk Network, Uber then-General Counsel Salle Yoo remarked:
I tell my team, “We’re not here to solve legal problems. We’re here to solve business problems. Legal is our tool”
She continued: “I am going to be supportive of innovation” — broadly indicating prioritizing innovation ahead of compliance with the law.
In summer 2016, Uber then-CEO Travis Kalanick sought to acquire a startup called Otto which specialized in self-driving vehicles. According to Bloomberg, then-General Counsel Salle Yoo “expressed reservations about the deal” and insisted on hiring Stroz Friedberg (cyber investigators) to assess any impropriety including the possibility, already known to her and Kalanick, that Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski was bringing files from Google, his former employer.
Bloomberg reports that Uber’s board wasn’t aware of these concerns, the Stroz findings, or Levandowski’s retention of Google files.
Bloomberg reports that Uber’s board hired an external law firm “to question security staff and investigate activities” overseen by Joe Sullivan, Uber’s Chief Security Officer. Bloomberg says the investigation specifically included COIN, the Competitive Intelligence program whereby Uber collected information about drivers and activity at Grab (via a system Uber called Surfcam) as well as Lyft (via Hell).
Bloomberg describes other Sullivan efforts including surveiling competitors and certain employees, as well as vetting potential hires.
Bloomberg reports that Uber’s Chief Security Officer, Joe Sullivan, was also assigned the title of deputy general counsel. Bloomberg notes the importance of this designation: it “could allow him to assert attorney-client privilege on his communications with colleagues and make his e-mails more difficult for a prosecutor to subpoena.”
Bloomberg reports that Uber hired private investigators to monitor an employee, China strategy chief Liu Zhen. It seems Uber’s concern was that Liu’s cousin Jean Liu is president of ride-hailing competitor Didi Chuxing.
Bloomberg further reports Uber surveiling competitors, and conducting “extensive vetting on potential hires.”
The use of private investigators was overseen by Joe Sullivan, Uber’s Chief Security Officer, through a team called Strategic Services Group.
As then-Genreal Counsel Salle Yoo pushed for Uber to comply with the law, then-CEO Travis Kalanick reassigned her from General Counsel to Chief Legal Officer. Kalanick styled this as a promotion, but Bloomberg says his “true intention was to sideline her from daily decisions” (based on assessment from two employees who worked closely with them).
Bloomberg reported that then-CEO Travis Kalanick encouraged then-General Counsel Salle Yoo to create a legal department with what Bloomberg called a “spirit of rule-breaking.” In a performance review, Kalanick told Yoo she needed to be more “innovative.” Bloomberg reports that Yoo considered herself “liberated” by not having to follow “best practices”, being allowed “to do things the way I think things should be done, rather than the way other people do it.” But Bloomberg says Yoo failed to challenge Kalanick and his deputies, or raise objections to Uber’s board.
Forensics firm Stroz Friedberg investigated the information Anthony Levandowski allegedly took from Google and whether or how it was destroyed. Stroz’s report conveys Levandowski’s admission that he had five discs of Google information which he says he destroyed (a claim Stroz was unable to verify).
Stroz found about 50,000 Google work emails on Levandowski’s personal computer, and there was evidence that he accessed some of the emails at about the same time he left Google, making it “difficult to believe” that he could not remember having those emails, as he claimed when interviewed.
Stroz found that Levandowski accessed certain Google files after his departure, then deleted them. Stroz also found evidence of Levandowski searching for instructions on secure file deletions, and telling coworkers to delete messages from him. These deletions are consistent with an attempt to destroy confidential Google information that Levandowski should not have had, but also consistent with a cover-up of information previously received and used.
A Google spokesperson said in a statement: “The Stroz Report unequivocally shows that, before it acquired his company, Uber knew Anthony Levandowski had a massive trove of confidential Waymo source code, design files, technical plans and other materials after leaving Google; that he stole information deliberately, and repeatedly accessed it after leaving Waymo; and that he tried to destroy the evidence of what he had done. In addition, Mr. Levandowski used his smartphone to take thousands of covert photographs of computer screens displaying Google confidential files. Knowing all of this, Uber paid $680 million for Mr. Levandowski’s company, protected him from legal action, and installed him as the head of their self-driving vehicle program.”
Accused of stealing driverless car technology from Google (his former employer), Uber executive Anthony Levandowski invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to testify.
In response to Levandowski’s refusal to cooperate in Uber’s response to Google (Waymo) litigation alleging that Uber stole Google/Waymo secrets, Uber fired Levandowski.
In a letter to Levandowski, Uber terminated him for cause. Uber noted its requirement that he cooperate with the litigation, which he did not do. Uber also noted that his employment agreement warranted the had had returned or destroyed all property and confidential information from any prior employer, but said that Levandowski’s actions gave Uber grounds to allege breach of these commitments.
See also Uber’s May 15, 2017 letter to Levandowski demanding that he comply with a court order, waive his Fifth Amendment protections, and cooperate with Uber’s defense of Google’s lawsuit. See also Levandowski’s May 18, 2017 motion asking the court to modify its order to avoid compelling Levandowski to waive his Fifth Amendment rights.