Should Governments Request Removal of Police Location Apps?

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So I don’t believe governments should be stepping over the line and requesting that these apps be withdrawn.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.


  1. I don’t really have a problem with these applications but I could just as easily live without them, too. As you’ve already pointed out, other mediums have already been giving this information out freely for quite some time – for as long as I can remember radio traffic reports have included the locations of mobile patrol units, speed cameras, etc. News reports often also make a big fuss about newly installed safety camera locations, the new mobile camera vehicles that have been rolled out… So when we’re talking about a few applications mirroring the same sort of accessible information, I don’t see the problem.

    HOWEVER! One of the things that really gets on my nerves is when people bitch and moan about those locations, as if it’s such blasphemy that there’s even a camera, patrol unit, etc. I feel that, for the most part, there shouldn’t be any warnings that detail where these things are located – hell, I think that even signs on the roads that warn a red light/speed/safety camera is coming up isn’t even necessary. If you don’t want to get caught, don’t speed or run a red light. It is as simple as that. I just hate it when people lose their minds when a new one is installed or they know about one – if you weren’t speeding in the first place, you wouldn’t get caught and thus wouldn’t have a problem to worry about in the first place.

    It’s that backwards logic people have that the law should apply to everyone else but them that gives me the shits. People who get caught deserve every bit of punishment they receive.

    1. You make some good points. People are all too ready to complain about new cameras popping up all over the place (although I have noticed that the new government in Victoria has already taken down a number of cameras early into its first term).

      If people play by the rules in the first place they have nothing to worry about.

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