On Monday, I wrote about the Sheriffs’ Association lobbying Google to remove a feature on its popular GPS app Waze that allows users to report when they see police officers seeking motorists to ticket for driving infractions. Initially, the sheriffs claimed that allowing citizens to locate police officers on taxpayer-funded highways and streets enables people to stalk and possibly ambush law enforcement officers.
The Waze app is a combination GPS/social network that allows users to report information subsequently shared with other app users. Not only can users report the location of a police car or highway patrol but they can report broken-down automobiles on the side of the road and red-light cameras.
Now, the sheriffs have “broadened the criteria” on which their objections to the app are based.
Just as I suspected, the new complaint against Waze is based on hampering the use of speed traps or, as I prefer to call them, “fundraisers.” The sheriffs are now claiming that radar guns and speed-enforcement techniques have reduced highway fatalities and accidents. And, consequently, warning drivers about speed traps would result in situations that endanger the automobiling public.
“This app will hamper those activities by locating law enforcement officers and puts the public at risk,” the group said.
Nonsense. If drivers slow down because they know there is a patrol car in the area, isn’t that the point?
“Most users tend to drive more carefully when they believe law enforcement is nearby,” Waze spokeswoman Julie Mossler said.
Unless the point isn’t to stop reckless driving or speeding but rather to issue speeding tickets to generate revenue.
We currently live in a society where the Department of Justice, the mother-ship of law enforcement, is cataloging and stalking the movement of all cars, and yet the sheriffs have the nerve to suggest that the public doesn’t have the right to know the same information about them. And it’s not just the right to know, it’s the right to speak freely about what we know.
Publicly broadcasting information falls under the First Amendment. “Waze represents person-to person information in the public square,” said Nuala O’Connor, head of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington civil liberties group. “And that’s long been a U.S. right under the Constitution.”
It’s time to take a few steps back and consider what path we are going down when law enforcement thinks it’s entitled to restrict the fundamental law of free speech in the service of entrapping citizens for minor traffic violations.