In the News Today

28 Mar

I read an article a few days ago regarding a controversy that I think all of us, as phone-savvy college students, can engage in.  I’ve noticed that nearly everyone in our class has either an iPhone or a Blackberry (findings courtesy of Cory and his no-phone-in-possession policy).  If you own a smart phone, you are probably familiar with all the different apps you can download.  I have about 30, including Groupon, Facebook, Twitter, Words With Friends, Shazam, etc.  All of which make life much more convenient for me in their own way.  However, there are a couple of recently developed apps that have really pushed the law’s buttons.  Watch the video or read the article below:

Senators Ask Apple to Pull Checkpoint-Dodging Apps

Smartphone applications that share information about police D.U.I. checkpoints and speed traps may be a boon for drivers hoping to avoid tickets (or worse), but a group of U.S. senators says they’re nothing but a public safety hazard.

In fact, they think the apps are so dangerous that in a letter to Apple, Research In Motion, which makes BlackBerrys, and Google today, Senators Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) urged the companies to remove the applications that they say help drunk drivers evade police.

“We know that your companies share our desire to end the scourge of drunk driving and we therefore would ask you to remove these applications from your store unless they are altered to remove the DUI/DWI checkpoint functionality,” the letter says.

In the Apple App Store, applications like PhantomAlert, Trapster, iRadar and others claim to help drivers avoid speed traps, police checkpoints and other traffic stops by crowdsourcing the reports of other drivers and disseminating police warnings.

Considering that more than 10,000 Americans die in drunk-driving crashes every year, with one drunk-driving related death every 50 minutes, the senators say that it’s a matter of “grave concern” to them that smartphone customers can download the D.U.I.-checkpoint-dodging applications so easily.

In the letter, they cite a recent USA Today article in which a police captain says the popular checkpoint alert apps are troubling.

“If people are going to use those, what other purpose are they going to use them for except to drink and drive?” Capt. Paul Starks of the Montgomery County Police Department told the paper. “They’re only thinking of one consequence, and that’s being arrested. They’re not thinking of ending the lives of other motorists, pedestrians, other passengers in their cars or themselves.”

But Joe Scott, CEO and founder of PhantomAlert, a Harrisburg, Pa., company that makes a popular checkpoint alert app for all kinds of smartphones, said he thought the senators’ letter was a “knee-jerk reaction.”

“If they really understood what we are doing and aim to achieve, they would actually support us,” he said.

“We’re doing exactly what the police departments are doing — putting up PSAs and letting people know there are checkpoints — to deter people from drinking and driving,” Scott said, adding that the only real difference is that his app shares the information in real-time.

A driver who may have been drinking could look at all the D.U.I. checkpoints highlighted on PhantomAlert’s map and decide to take a cab or catch a ride with a friend, he said.

Apple, Research in Motion and Google did not immediately respond to requests from comment from ABCNews.com.

Source: ABC News

 

Apps like Trapster, Fuzz Alert, and Phantom Alert give drivers a heads up when police may be lurking nearby.  Some argue that the apps only serve the same purpose as radar detectors, which people have been able to buy for years.  Others fear that these apps will encourage drivers’ unsafe behavior if they are given that sense of security by knowing all the areas they should avoid while breaking the law.  I understand the motive behind dodging a painfully expensive speeding ticket.  But a DUI checkpoint is a whole different ballgame.  Yes, they’re annoying.  But I think they’re a small price to pay to ensure our safety on the road after a night out.  People looking to avoid checkpoints are likely drunk, putting not only their own but everyone else’s lives in their tracks on their newly designed route home in grave danger.  Legally, the information provided by these apps is protected under the First Amendment.  “The process of telling citizens about government activity is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The fact that it’s being performed by an app that passes along reports from citizens to other citizens is entirely beside the point….The bottom line is that this group of four senators is trying to compel limitations on protected speech.”  This is a valid point.  However, could it be that lawmakers are genuinely just looking out for the best interest of the public?  Is the risk involved with the usefulness of these apps worth it?  What do you think?

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