Software Developer Group To Senators: Access To Checkpoint Data Deters Drunk Driving, Doesn’t Encourage It

Software Developer Group To Senators: Access To Checkpoint Data Deters Drunk Driving, Doesn’t Encourage It
Trapster is a popular iPhone app that alerts drivers to police speed traps, red light cameras and DUI checkpoints. The company has tried to remove DUI checkpoints, but users kept putting them back in.

A group representing thousands of independent software developers on Monday sent a letter objecting to four Democratic senators’ request last week to smartphone companies to remove applications that alert drivers to DUI checkpoints.

“While we share your concern for road safety, and that even one drunk driver on the road is too many, we urge you to proceed slowly and consider the implications to the mobile apps ecosystem when regulation and rule of law are abandoned and apps are pulled by government fiat,” writes Jonathan Zuck, president of the Association for Competitive Technology.

Zuck specifically mentions the senators’ concerns with Trapster and PhantomALERT, and that the senators consider the apps “to be in conflict with the public interest on the issue of traffic safety.”

Four senators, Sens. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., Harry Reid, D-Nev., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Tom Udall, D-N.M.  sent a letter to Apple, Research in Motion, and Google last week asking them to remove apps that alert drivers to a number of enforcement points on roadways, including DUI checkpoints.

But, ACT’s Zuck notes, the data that companies such as PhantomALERT and Trapster uses is already in the public domain, is often required to be published by law, and is also freely provided by individuals reporting in from the road as well.

Zuck goes on to note that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that heightened awareness of checkpoints acts as a deterrent to illegal behavior.

“Because of this, several of the apps in question have received particular commendation from the law enforcement community,” he writes.

ACT’s members include PhantomALERT.

As of Monday, the apps were still available through iTunes, but RIM had removed PhantomALERT.

“Drunk drivers will soon have one less tool to evade law enforcement and endanger our friends and families,” the senators said in joint statement last Wednesday.  “We appreciate RIM’s immediate reply and urge the other smartphone makers to quickly follow suit.”

The senators’ satisfaction should be short-lived, however. As with any web site or app, the data, information or activity can always show up elsewhere.

There’s a Twitter feed, for example, that alerts people to DUI checkpoints in California.

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  • Imp

    Senators are more idiotic than I thought apparently. They really think someone Drunk with the music at max is going to be paying attention to their iPhone/iTouch dinging? Seriously? They won’t even hear it, let alone see it.

    Use some brains.

  • imajoebob

    Sure, nobody listens when I, an anonymous smart-ass blog commenter says it. But somebody with credentials representing thousands of other people with credentials, and EVERYBODY believes them!

  • The_BORG

    http://twitter.com/Checkpoints… also has info for other states ( http://www.drunkdrivingfacts.n… ).

  • Mark Bradley

    Should facebook and twitter be banned as well since a lot of people notify each other via social networks in regards to check points.

  • prof_peabody

    This is just BS. I don’t support the banning of the app, but the idea that it discourages drunk driving is a joke. “Awareness” that there are a lot of checkpoints out there discourages drunk driving. Knowing exactly where they are so you can avoid them does not.

  • Jefcostello

    Once again the leftists are the ones stifling free speech and using their monopolistic powers to bully Americans. When do you leftists learn that these are not the people you want in power?

  • Jefcostello

    Democrats.

  • SulaymanF

    That isn’t the same since it’s not Facebook’s primary reason for existing

  • Robert Pruitt

    I think the devs have a point.
    I also don’t think the libtard senators realize they have educated potentially millions to the existence of this app who would have otherwise not known. I didn’t know about it previously.

  • A Private Citizen

    What should bother you is not “does it encourage or discourage”; the problem is more about how this was done, rather than the DUI checkpoint aspects. This was a letter/press event by four Senators who saw this as an easy press issue, rather than a substantive complaint.

    Instead of contacting the Apps developers in question, or going through existing regulators like the FTC, or even DoJ, they staged a press conference in front of the 5th Avenue Apple store. Many of the developers in question didn’t even learn about the issue until RIM sent a note to some saying their app was removed.

    Several of the apps could have worked with the Senators to explain how they use news feeds from law enforcement, or even begun a discussion on how to make the app more useful on the deterrent side.

    Instead, we got apps pulled by press conference.

    Regardless of your political stripe, imagine the precedent that has been set; if you are a Democrat, imagine Michelle Bachmann deciding one of your favorite apps is “immoral”, and having it pulled. If you are a Republican, imagine Nancy Pelosi having an app pulled because it’s “discriminatory”.

    Worse still, what happens when apps start to make an impact abroad, and foreign governments start pulling apps just because they see an opportunity it screw with foreign competition?

    We want a world where apps developers understand their legal obligations, responsibilities and most importantly recourse when it comes to the government. Unlike Terms of Service agreements from the storefront itself, the Government wields a mightier sword, and oftentimes one with no recourse.

    If you build an app that’s legal, fits within the Terms of Service, is not unfair, deceptive or misleading, then your app should have a chance to compete. If the government doesn’t like what you’ve done, then change the law.

  • Mike Rathjen

    From the previous story, I quote:
    “Trapster is a popular iPhone app that alerts drivers to police speed traps, red light cameras and DUI checkpoints. The company tired to remove DUI checkpoints, but users kept putting them back in.”

    If the developers believe heightened awareness of checkpoints acts as a deterrent to illegal behavior, then why are the developers trying to remove the DUI checkpoints? They want to increase drunk driving?

About the author

Sarah Lai Stirland

Sarah Lai Stirland is from the gadget and status-crazed island of Hong Kong, where even sampan drivers enjoy showing off their latest gizmos. Sarah's work has appeared in Congress Daily, National Journal, POLITICO, Portfolio.com, Red Herring, The Village Voice, and Wired.com, among other places. She now lives with her husband, cat and her young gadget-obsessed, button-pushing daughter in San Francisco. Follow Sarah on Twitter at @LaiStirland

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