NYPD Sends Letter To Google Demanding It Remove Cop Checkpoint Notifications From Google Maps

from the when-one-business-model-interferes-with-another-business-model dept

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.

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Comments on “NYPD Sends Letter To Google Demanding It Remove Cop Checkpoint Notifications From Google Maps”

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55 Comments
btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yep.

"The NYPD has become aware that the Waze Mobile application currently permits the public to report DWI checkpoints throughout New York City and map these locations. Accordingly, we demand that Google LLC, upon receipt of this letter, immediately remove this function from the Waze application."

Were I Google, my response would be short and sweet:

United States Constitution, Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Hell, in California, the police are required to post public notification of DUI/License checkpoints at least 24 hours before conducting them. If the cops have to make a public announcement, how could it be a crime for an app to provide the same information?

Gwiz (profile) says:

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.

I have no clue about New York and my own state has made DUI checkpoints a violation of the state constitution, but I thought the purpose of announcing DUI checkpoints in advance was to alleviate some of the legal problems associated with the Fourth Amendment standard of "reasonable search and seizure."

Qwertygiy says:

Not completely deleted

I don’t know about Scribd, but the CBS file just appears to have been moved to a more stable location, from a "/users/RAnderson1/Downloads" folder to a wordpress file-hosting site.

Article: https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2019/02/06/nypd-letter-google-dwi-checkpoints-waze-app/

PDF linked therein: https://cbsnewyork.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/googlellcdwicheckpoints-020219.pdf

Rocky says:

Re: Re:

I my opinion there is no excuse for drunk driving except for some very limited exceptions (like life & death situations) so if people are stupid enough to do it they deserve what’s coming if they get caught.

Also, it’s no wonder the punishment are getting harsher – about 30% of all drivers arrested for drunk driving are repeat offenders.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Really I think the problem isn’t the punishment per say but the recidivism. Some countries with far more functional public transit have a lifetime license loss for drunk driving which is perfectly fine in that case since their system can support it.

Here it may not work too well since in many cases even taking their license doesn’t stop repeat offenders from just driving unlicensed. Fixing public transit would help with it like many other issues but there seems to be little will or appetite for it.

What isn’t fine /ever/ is the policing turning into an utter shakedown.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Do you think this is the same guy who started ranting about AOC in another totally unrelated thread earlier today, or do you suppose we’ve got more than one?

And do you suppose it’s occurred to any of them that if right-wingers hadn’t spent the past six months ranting about her nonstop, most people would never have even heard of this freshman representative from New York?

Qwertygiy says:

Re: Re:

If you’re not doing anything wrong you have nothing to hide.

I know I’m not hiding cocaine up my butt when I’m driving to a business meeting.

You know I’m not hiding cocaine up my butt when I’m driving to a business meeting.

But the cops know that if I’m not doing anything wrong, I have nothing up my butt to hide. So if they find anything as little as gas leaking, despite my insistence of innocence, they need to investigate and make sure I’m not just full of crap.

(Apologies to David Eckert for flushing the severity of personal probes down the drain.)

Anonymous Coward says:

this isn’t new and there’s no way they thought sending a shakedown letter to google would amount to anything happening for them. odd move on their part; likely just more grandstanding for them. if it’s out in the public, then there’s no since of privacy. if they want to do a dui checkpoint from their driveway at the station, i wonder if they’d catch a few people leaving who are drunk?

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