The Bedford County, Va Sheriff has become vocal leader in a national campaign
of law-enforcement officials against the popular app Waze. At a meeting
of the National Sheriffs Association he said that Waze's police-reporting
feature, is a "police stalker." The Bedford Sheriff asserted
that Waze puts officers' lives in danger from "police killers"
who can find where their targets are parked. The sheriff said:
"The police community needs to coordinate an effort to have the [Waze]
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,"
The Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and the executive director
of the Fraternal Order of Police join Bedford with concerns over Waze's
impact on police safety. New York senator Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., expressed
concern with Waze and other mobile apps that identify police location
and specifically drunk driving checkpoints,
Waze, is an IOS and android app that combines GPS functions with social
networking. The result is that users get real time traffic updates and
warnings about road hazards. Users report what they see - including police.
Those following a map can see accidents, traffic, construction and parked
police cars. The app does not distinguish whether the police cars are
stopped for any specific purpose. (e.g. sobriety checkpoints or speed
traps). Waze estimates that it has 50 million users in 200 countries.
In 2013 Google purchased Waze for $966 million. The app now utilizes several
key components of Googles ubiquitous map app.
Despite police concerns there are no known or reported connections between
any attack on police and the Waze app.
In light of the fact that there is no proven connection between Waze and
officer safety it appears that police departments are more concerned with
lost ticket revenue than safety. Nationally, speeding tickets generate
$6.3 billion in revenue each year. Police and local governments rely on
that money. Waze clearly warns users of speed traps. Drivers slow down
and drive safer in areas where they have been alerted to police.
Waze responds by saying that the company: (1) works with police departments
and (2) thinks "deeply about safety and security." A Waze spokesman
noted that, "Most users tend to drive more carefully when they believe
law enforcement is nearby," If the primary police concern is highway
safety, they should prefer that drivers slow down and not speed rather
than speed and get caught. In fact NBC, Miami reports that local police
have begun reporting fake police sightings and speed traps to undermine the app.
Waze users have a clear First Amendment right to describe their observations
(including police location). Police opposition to Waze is hypocritical
but expected. In 2012 a Missouri police officer wrote a motorist a ticket
for flashing his headlights to warn other drivers of police presence.
A federal judge predictably ruled that this was a violation of that drivers
right to free speech. Police departments use software similar to Waze
to collect license plate information. Police have also used social media
for amber alerts and manhunts. Although police are comfortable tracking
citizens using 21st century technology they are strangely uncomfortable
when citizens use the same tools to recognize where police locations.
Any legislative attempt to block social networking about police location
would be contrary to the U.S. constitution. Courts could only uphold an
anti-free speech law by narrowly squeezing it into a judicially recognized
exception. For the foreseeable future Waze's users can safely use
the app to make safe driving decisions.