Wednesday, March 23, 2011

DUI Checkpoint Apps Under Congressional Scrutiny Removed By RIM

Earlier this week U.S. Senators Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Harry Reid (D-NV), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), and Tom Udall (D-NM) wrote to Google, Apple, and RIM to express concern about smartphone apps that could be used to keep tabs on - and possibly evade DUI checkpoints. Stating these applications could be "harmful to public safety," the legislators asked the companies to remove the apps or alter them so they do not allow for real-time DUI checkpoint information.

“Giving drunk drivers a free tool to evade checkpoints, putting innocent families and children at risk, is a matter of public concern,” the senators said. “We hope that you will give our request to remove these applications from your store immediate consideration.”

The applications in question could be used to help drivers identify where local police officers have set up DUI checkpoints, possibly allowing offenders to escape detection.

Today RIM confirmed it has removed PhantomALERT, the only possible suspect reported found, from the BlackBerry App World. PhantomALERT provided users data on speed traps, red light cameras, speed cameras, school zones, DUI checkpoints, and dangerous intersections.

A RIM representative reportedly contacted the senators to say it would comply with their request for removal. "Drunk drivers will soon have one less tool to evade law enforcement and endanger our friends and families," the senators said in a joint statement. "We appreciate RIM's immediate reply and urge the other smartphone makers to quickly follow suit."

App makers feel their apps are wrongfully being targeted, and deservedly so.

Joe Scott, CEO and founder of PhantomALERT, one of the companies targeted by the senators said "They're misjudging us, it's a safety tool. It's approved by a lot of police departments. How is that we're being sanctioned? It just doesn't make sense."

The maker of “FuzzAlert,” Steve Croke, says he didn’t design his app to help people evade DUIs but to let people know where things like red-light cameras and speed traps are. He says he added information on DUI checkpoints because other apps had it and it publicizes the existence of such checks.

“I don’t think anybody realistically is going to go into a bar and get smashed and then check my app,” he said. “Is government really allowed to come in and say ‘You can’t do this?’”

On their website the makers of “Buzzed” write that the purpose of their app is to send “a powerful and direct message” that local police departments are ”cracking down on driving under the influence, and this causes drivers to think twice about getting behind the wheel.”

In most cases the information is publicly available with many police departments posting the details of potential checkpoints on their websites or giving the public notice via the local media. In the case of a few of the apps its a matter of social networking, with users posting details of checkpoints they see or have heard about. This information can often be found via Twitter, Facebook or other sites.

While these apps make make it easier to find the information or may better pinpoint the locations of checkpoints they certainly aren't doing anything that should come under fire from US Senators.

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