Law Enforcement Wants Google To Cripple Waze Because It Lets The Mean Old Public 'Stalk' Police Officers

from the I-can-see-you-parked-right-there dept

If you’ve tinkered with Waze at all you know the app allows users to post road conditions, lane closures, police locations, and other pertinent driving hazards with a heavy emphasis on the gamification of that information (i.e., you get points for reporting accurate information). I generally find the feature to be marginally useful if not annoying. Police move positions so quickly I find that crowdsourcing isn’t particularly effective. As such, I generally just stick to my long-standing practice of flirting with a speed that’s around six to seven miles over the speed limit (I know, I’m an absolute wild man).

Eager to protect a revenue generator, law enforcement has long wanted speed trap warning disabled in the app, though as we’ve noted, warning others of speed traps (whether that’s flashing your lights or otherwise) is effectively protected speech. With previous arguments not working so well, the latest claim by the law enforcement community is that Waze is dangerous for police because it effectively facilitates stalking of officers. Or at least that’s the argument being pushed forth by the National Sheriffs Association in their quest to make Waze much less useful to motorists:

“Sheriff Mike Brown of Bedford County, Virginia, said the police-reporting feature, which he called the “police stalker,” presents a danger to law enforcement. “The police community needs to coordinate an effort to have the owner, Google, act like the responsible corporate citizen they have always been and remove this feature from the application even before any litigation or statutory action,” said Brown, who also serves as the chairman of the National Sheriffs Association technology committee.”

Of course, the police officers being “stalked” are parked in obvious line of sight on public motorways, and if a mentally-unstable person did want to cause problems, it’s not too hard to find an opportunity. At the same time, the citizens using the app are simply having a perfectly-legal conversation. Combined with the fact that the quoted officers can’t be bothered to cite a single instance where this sort of technology has ever been a problem in this regard, that’s a pretty feeble justification for crippling an application by any measure. Regardless, it appears Google has already been making concessions; when it started porting Waze data into Google Maps earlier this year, police reporting data was notably absent.

Whatever, just as long as we’re not talking about how much Waze location data gets shared with the law enforcement and intelligence communities, right?

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Companies: google, waze

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Comments on “Law Enforcement Wants Google To Cripple Waze Because It Lets The Mean Old Public 'Stalk' Police Officers”

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51 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

You first

Police defend license plate readers by claiming that the information they gather, what plate went past what location when, is publicly available. If they’re going to use that defense for plate readers, then unless they care to be blatant hypocrites, they cannot then turn around and claim that police location data is suddenly private and needs to be hidden.

If they can watch us, we should have the same ability to watch them, and if they object to being watched, then they shouldn’t be doing any watching of others themselves.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I read “Danger to police” but what I heard was “Danger to Police revenues.”

What read is “Holy crap, the cops are pansies!” They’re armed to the teeth, wearing body armour, driving armoured vehicles (MRAPs?), and we’re a threat to them? Come on!

This is not a new thing. I’ve been hearing police complain about how everything is against them for decades. Yet fifteen(?) year olds are shot in traffic stops, instead of cops thinking instead. Lay out a spike strip to stop that stolen car, you idiots! You don’t need to be shooting teenagers.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

‘You reap what you sow’.

They’ve spent how many years seeing, and treating, the public as though every last member of it was an enemy, nothing but vicious criminals just barely restraining themselves from attacking the cops, and therefor who need to be treated as much?

Treat someone like that, in word and in action, and yeah, you’re not going to be making many friends.

Ninja (profile) says:

I find the speed trap reports very valuable. Not because I like speeding, with very few exceptions I’m right at the speed limit or below it (no, I don’t ‘cheat’ with the 10% margin) but rather because sometimes you get tickets because you are busy paying attention to more pressing matters such as where you need to turn, adverse conditions on the road/street, some bad driver nearby etc. I got one of such tickets after 10 years clean of any ticket whatsoever.

Besides, the drivers that intentionally speed will have it embedded in their GPS devices, it’s not hard to find maps with probable speed traps loaded in them (cops aren’t very creative with their stuff and tend to set up the things in the same spot every time).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Unfortunately, the police have a rather unique profession.

Can you name any other profession where one is required to swear an oath, and immediately upon swearing the oath, do everything within their power to subvert the spirit of the oath while staying as narrowly as possible within the letter of the oath?

After all, that pesky bill of rights makes their job so much more difficult.

Anonymous Coward says:

If the goal is public safety, Waze helps in that regard. People slow down, avoid traffic jams and debris in the road, etc. If the goal is revenue, the police need new goals.

Police also need to stop being such pussies. They’re armed, armored, and (semi) trained. Fear for their safety shouldn’t be an issue anymore.

tomczerniawski (profile) says:

We shouldn’t blame the cops, or mock them for wanting this app disabled. They’re expressing exactly the same fear we are expressing: the fear that technology might be used to track us, and harm us.

If anything, this is an opportunity to build bridges between groups of law enforcement officers, and privacy activists. We’re all equally endangered by out-of-control surveillance.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

” They’re expressing exactly the same fear we are expressing: the fear that technology might be used to track us, and harm us.”

There is a HUGE difference, though. We’re talking about the police while they are on duty. There is no personal privacy implication about knowing where a public servant is when they are performing their job.

The technology that tracks us is tracking us in our personal lives, not on the job. Notice that people are a lot more forgiving about on-the-job surveillance than off-the-job surveillance.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Next Up, A Ban on Eyes

Tragically, in NYC two policemen were shot last month by a deranged lunatic. He saw the cruiser, moved up and assassinated both officers.

In committing the crime, he made use of his eyes and vision. These tools can be used to see police cars when they are stopped at roadsides and other locations, thus, the National Sheriffs Association is petitioning people to remove their eyes, which pose a marked risk to officer safety.

The data doesn’t lie:
Cases in which eyes have been used to harm officers: basically all
Cases in which Waze has been used to harm officers: basically zero

Anonymous Coward says:

“The police community needs to coordinate an effort to have the owner, Google, act like the responsible corporate citizen they have always been and remove this feature from the application even before any litigation or statutory action,”

Litigation or statutory action? Like what?

Are they really going to claim that they were parked in a public place and because of this app, people noticed them?

You know, sometimes I wish they would start with the litigation, and get themselves severely bitch-slapped by Google’s lawyers, while being laughed out of the courtroom. After all, he seems so confident that he has a point.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You know, sometimes I wish they would start with the litigation, and get themselves severely bitch-slapped by Google’s lawyers, while being laughed out of the courtroom. After all, he seems so confident that he has a point.

Yet G. appears to agree. They’re censoring their app because cops are afraid of those (us; their employers) they’re supposed to protect and serve.

It’s a strange, strange world we live in, master Jack.

Rapnel (profile) says:

I don’t know about everyone else but I’m growing pretty tired of the “needs of law enforcement” mantra. We choose to be governed by the rule of law and not by and for the ease of law enforcement. Those are the wrong rules. If you can not fight crime without further elevating the already disproportionately elevated “police powers” because “hard” then we have a problem and people are going to start choosing .. differently.

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