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Airbnb launches contentious ‘law enforcement’ portal in UK

Police and local authorities will be able to go online to ask Airbnb for information about its users and bookings including landlords and renters.

Nigel Lewis

airbnb online short lets image

Airbnb has launched a dedicated hub to enable government agencies to submit requests for information about Airbnb users and members of the public.

But despite requests from The Negotiator to reveal what kinds of information requests will be submitted to the portal, Airbnb would only confirm that it would be a ‘secure and streamlined channel for law enforcement to submit valid legal requests for information from Airbnb’.

The requests are believed to involve a range of contentious activities linked to the Airbnb platform including landlords who rent out their properties for more than 90 days in London or without freeholder permission, fraudulent activity by fake landlords, drug dealers and brothel operators who use addresses illegally and users who book properties as ‘party houses’.

The company already cooperates with authorities in the UK using dedicated teams to process such requests for information, but these are now to be handled exclusively via the portal.

Law enforcement

Last year Airbnb handled 113 requests from law enforcement authorities in the UK and 31 people were affected by the disclosures, although Airbnb doesn’t make it clear how.

Around the world government law enforcement authorities submitted 1,739 information requests last year to the short-lets platform.

Through the portal, law enforcement officers will be able to securely track requests, and receive status updates and customised email notifications.

The new security portal sets an extraordinary precedent for the lettings and hospitality sectors, officially co-opting a business for the first time into the surveillance of criminals and rule breakers.

“The safety and privacy of our community is our priority,” says  Elaine Punch, Airbnb’s Law Enforcement Operations Manager.

“This announcement complements the work we do day in day out to keep our hosts, our guests and communities safe. We will continue to do what we can to assist law enforcement and their investigations.”

 

October 9, 2019

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