NYPD has reignited the fight against Google and its practice of sharing police activity locations on its Waze app. The department’s stance is that the app prevents it from fulfilling its dual priorities to protect both the public and on-duty police officers. Google claims that users have a First Amendment right to share the locations of police activity.
In a recent letter to Google, the NYPD claims that the app is allowing its users to break the law by sharing information that works in contrast to the department’s public safety goals. The letter builds on the law enforcement community’s previously stated concerns over police safety.
Waze, a popular GPS navigation app for smart phones, includes a feature that allows users to notify others of the whereabouts of police. The intent, say law enforcement groups, is to warn people to avoid speed traps and sobriety checkpoints.
In addition to navigation assistance, the app uses colorful icons that appear on the on-screen map and allow users to notify other drivers in the area of accidents, traffic congestion, and roadside hazards, as well as traffic cameras, police speed traps and DWI checkpoints. Despite its harmless appearance, it is the app’s cartoonish policeman icon that worries law enforcement. The innocent look belies its dangerous potential. The police contend that individuals who share this information are breaking the law, as their actions are intended to impair the administration the law.
While the policeman icon has the ability to distinguish the police activity location as “visible” or “hidden”, the comments section may give users more details about what type of police activity is involved. This information sharing gives users the ability to undermine public safety goals, but it also has the potential to put officers in real danger.
In December 2014, in the wake of the murders of two on-duty police officers, the National Sheriff’s Association began a campaign to keep information on police activity from being shared on the Waze app. While the Google-owned app played no role in the tragic deaths of these officers, police departments and law enforcement groups believe that the availability of information pertaining to locations of in-progress police activity puts officers at risk. If someone wanted to target a police officer, they say, this app provides critical information to assist with such a crime.
In addition to safety concerns for officers, the police groups also claim that the app’s police activity feature prevents them from keeping the public safe, as it allows for unsafe drivers to avoid being caught.
However, some reason that the app is actually a help, not a hindrance, to the department’s public safety goals. The argument there is that the app helps to maintain a police presence to deter crime. They believe that if people are made aware of law enforcement presence, they are less likely to attempt to flout the laws.
Still, law enforcement groups see the app as a work around that gives drivers reason to behave recklessly, putting the public in danger.
Attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser successfully handle claims against police and law enforcement agencies. Contact us online or call our West Chester, Pennsylvania office at 484-318-7106. We represent clients in Philadelphia and Chester County.