Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wants to control your smartphone.
Yesterday, Schumer went after Google, Apple, and other smartphone-industry players who have refused to follow a "voluntary" request by him and Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) that they ban apps that show where police are setting up driving under the influence (DUI) checkpoints, speed traps, and the like.
State officials are applying similar pressure (and are also claiming that all requests for compliance are "voluntary"). Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, the son of Vice President Joe Biden, is pushing for bans and so is Maryland's Attorney General Doug Gansler, who likened the apps to "giving a robber the key and the alarm pad code to go rob a bank."
As a direct result of the pressure, Research in Motion, maker of Blackberry products, blocked the apps.
But are apps that give citizens more information about what law enforcement is up to a bad thing? They clearly fall under First Amendment guarantees of free expression (that's why lawmakers are saying their requests are "voluntary"). But perhaps more important, such apps actually minimize drunk driving and speeding—which is one of the reasons why police in places such as Travis County, Texas, are the ones entering the information for DUI checkpoint apps such as Trapster. As a Travis County cop puts it, if he can stop the problematic behavior without writing tickets or hauling people in, everybody is better off.
That's an irony that's lost on bullying pols such as Schumer, Biden, and others. But it's one of the reasons why the audience for such apps continues to grow.
Produced by Joshua Swain with Nick Gillespie, who also narrates. Filmed by Swain and Jim Epstein.
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