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Are Dems Building a Case for Gov't Regulation of Popular Ride-Hailing Apps?
In this Feb. 10, 2015, file photo, Anthony Khoury, head of Middle East and Africa expansions for Uber, demonstrates the mobile application at a press event to celebrate the official launch of the car-hailing service in Cairo. Uber passengers can now earn one Starwood rewards point for each dollar they spend on a ride in a car found through the Uber app, the San Francisco-based company said Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy, File)

Are Dems Building a Case for Gov't Regulation of Popular Ride-Hailing Apps?

"You should take additional steps."

A handful of House Democrats want popular ride-hailing apps to do more to ensure their customers stay safe.

The representatives cite the recent spate of sexual assault cases as sufficient reason for ride-hailing services such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar to require their drivers to provide fingerprints upon being hired, The Hill reported.

AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy

“While we understand your companies conduct private background checks when vetting potential drivers, you should take additional steps to increase the safety of your customers," the lawmakers said in a letter. "Specifically, we urge you to adopt comprehensive fingerprint-based background checks for new and existing drivers."

The members of Congress noted how popular such services have become, especially among younger Americans in urban or suburban areas, and recalled "multiple instances" in which drivers have been accused of sexually assaulting their passengers.

"It is clear that there is an urgent need to improve screening standards currently in place," they said.

Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) and John Garamendi (D-Calif.) are the eight members who signed the letter urging the three services to implement additional screenings.

It's not the first time Democrats on Capitol Hill have voiced concerns over such apps. In December, Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) sent a letter to executives of both Uber and Lyft to request documents pertaining to the privacy of their customers.

"Some media reports have suggested that Uber lacks responsible data-security practices and potentially disregards the protections articulated in its privacy policy," they wrote. “These reports are disturbing because geolocation data can be used to create intimate profiles of customers, such as where they live, work and socialize."

The two senators sent a separate but similar letter to one of Uber's competitors, Lyft, in which they also requested documents pertaining to customers' privacy.

Meanwhile, Republicans have argued that successful start-up companies like these are the result of what happens when the government doesn't try to regulate an industry, as is the case with taxicabs. But as is the case in most other instances, Republicans have not had much to say about the potential privacy issues involved with the uses of ride-hailing apps.

The GOP has instead focused on how the companies create jobs and offer a less expensive alternative to using government-regulated taxi cabs.

In a statement to TheBlaze Tuesday, a Sidecar representative said its approval process for drivers "is not only safe; it’s safer and more thorough than fingerprint-based background checks. Our extensive driver background check includes federal, state and county review for sex offenses, DUI, reckless driving, felony drug convictions and other criminal convictions and spans seven years."

Safety features, Sidecar said, also include GPS tracking of every ride from beginning to end, electronic records of every ride, driver and vehicle photos in the app, the ability to choose your driver and a direct line to live customer support. The ride-hailing app said it also monitors communities in real-time and allows for the quick removal of poorly rated drivers.

"Our political leaders should take action to encourage transportation innovation and welcome the improved safety measures services like Sidecar offer," the statement challenges. Likewise, Uber and Lyft defended each of their safety and security policies.

Follow Jon Street (@JonStreet) on Twitter

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