A few years after law enforcement officials claimed Google's Waze navigation app allowed cop killers to stalk cops, the NYPD is demanding Google alter one of its apps (Google Maps, which incorporates certain Waze features) so it works more like the NYPD wants it to work, rather than how drivers want it to work. Gersh Kuntzman of Streetsblog NYC was the first to obtain a copy of a cease-and-desist sent to Google by the NYPD.
The NYPD is demanding that Google remove a just-added feature to its omnipresent Maps program that tips off drivers to the locations of speed cameras, Streetsblog has learned.
Google added the speed camera notification as part of its effort to incorporate some of the crowd-sourced features of Waze, which the tech giant bought in 2013. The Waze app shows the locations of police checkpoints as well as what some drivers call “speed traps,” but what police believe are life-saving enforcement efforts.
The NYPD sent its “cease-and-desist” letter to Google over the weekend — after Streetsblog asked officials’ about the Waze feature that allows drivers to inform each other of police roadblocks.
The NYPD is upset because the new notifications allow drivers to route around DWI roadblocks. The NYPD apparently feels allowing drivers to bypass checkpoints will make the streets less safe and prevent the police force from enjoying the side benefits of dozens of suspicionless stops.
There are a number of reasons drivers may not want to interact with the NYPD, most of which have nothing to do with driving drunk. A police checkpoint is a hassle for anyone wanting to go from Point A to Point B, especially when every driver in line is presumed guilty until cleared by officers. It's win-win for the NYPD, which also assumes anyone avoiding a checkpoint is also guilty. These notifications might suck for cops, but it's a stretch to assume the app is allowing a horde of drunk drivers to roam the city unmolested.
But that's exactly what the NYPD assumes. Its cease-and-desist letter [PDF] demands Google not only remove this feature from Google Maps but somehow prevent users from finding others ways to notify fellow drivers about law enforcement checkpoints. It also accuses Maps users of committing criminal acts simply by posting the location of cop checkpoints.
Individuals who post the location of DWI checkpoints may be engaging in criminal conduct since such actions could be intentional attempts to prevent and/or impair the administration of DWI laws and other relevant criminal and traffic laws. The posting of such information for public consumption is irresponsible since it only serves to aid impaired and intoxicated drivers to evade checkpoints and encourage reckless driving.
This is nonsense. The posting of this information doesn't "only serve" impaired drivers. It also aids unimpaired drivers who may not want to make a suspicionless stop part of their daily commute. Even the most historically-strident advocate of driving while intoxicated laws doesn't agree with the NYPD's claims.
Helen Witty, the national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, was reluctant to address the specifics of the letter without more information, but she noted that sobriety checkpoints were frequently publicized in advance and that even when drivers were warned about them, they served their purpose.
“If you are impaired, you are not going to pay attention to that information,” she said, adding that in her experience, drunken drivers coming through sobriety checkpoints were often very confused or unaware of what was happening.
Witty goes on to point out the goal of regular DWI checkpoints is to make all drivers aware officers are looking for and punishing drunk drivers. More public awareness means fewer drunk drivers on the road, which should be the ultimate goal of these checkpoints.
Google has responded to the letter with a statement that indicates it won't be removing users' ability to warn others of speed traps and DWI checkpoints.
“Safety is a top priority when developing navigation features at Google. We believe that informing drivers about upcoming speed traps allows them to be more careful and make safer decisions when they’re on the road,” a Google spokesperson told CBS2 in a statement.
If the purpose of speed limits is to reduce drivers' speed to something the local government considers to be safe, a warning about speed traps ensures nothing more than drivers using Maps will be driving the speed limit when they approach that area. If the actual goal of speed traps and DWI checkpoints is to generate revenue, then of course law enforcement is going to be upset about Google picking its pocket.
The other odd thing to note is that the NYPD seems to want its letter to Google memory-holed. Streetsblog was the first to obtain the letter, but its copy has already been removed from Scribd. CBS News also posted a copy of the letter, but that link now returns a 404 error. No updates have been published at either site explaining the disappearance of the letter, and neither site has expressed any doubt as to the letter's legitimacy. What's posted below is built from screenshots of Streetsblog's embed, which is (so far) still generating an image of the PDF Scribd no longer hosts. It seems odd the NYPD would want this letter scrubbed from the internet, but it seems completely unlikely StreetsBlog and CBS both decided to delete this document on their own.
Filed Under: dui checkpoints, free speech, google maps, nypd, police, speed cameras, speed traps, wazeCompanies: google