This is not a new issue by any means but this topic has bubbled up to the surface again after four US senators wrote to Apple as well as RIM and Google to revoke apps that help people avoid police checkpoints. This was in response to a specific app called PhantomALERT that is at the focal point of this request. Certainly, this app is not the first or only app that broadcasts and distributes the coordinates of police presence and other types of interesting entities such as red light cameras and speed cameras. Trapster is one such popular app in Australia that keeps track of such things.
At any rate, the question really must be asked as to whether or not a government can make such requests with the expectation of follow through from a company.
Personally, I think there is a fine line that is trodden with such a subject. Perhaps it is a valid argument that drunk drivers should not be on the road but when it comes at the cost of censoring information that flows through a particular medium then it might not sit so well with people. There’s nothing stopping people from texting or phone friends about police or municipal presence in a particular area (like parking inspectors) and radio stations have been doing it for a while too. The only difference between how the information flows in all of the scenarios is the medium and the ease with which the information can be disseminated (be it one to one, one to many, synchronously or asynchronously).
I can only think that governments get very twitchy when information can be sent by one person to many others in a matter of seconds which can significantly reduce the effectiveness of law enforcement checkpoints. Particularly, when these checkpoints are setup for the purpose of revenue raising and meeting certain quotas one can understand perhaps why this use of technology might be frowned upon. It’s also an interesting that the public are turning the tables on governments by keeping track of their presence and movements when it seems our privacy and information seem to be increasingly invaded.
So I don’t believe governments should be stepping over the line and requesting that these apps be withdrawn. If they are serious about public safety then their response and initiatives need to adapt to provide genuine and effective support in this day and age.