Google Waze Under Attack by Local Police

Google Waze is under fire from local law enforcement — AGAIN — this time by NYPD alleging the app aids and encourages reckless driving.

February 11, 2019

By: Bobby Casey, Managing Director GWP

google waze local police

We have covered extensively how many ways to Sunday the individuals’ privacy is under siege by their governments.  This isn’t unique at all to the United States, and in fact is even worse for those in the United Kingdom!

A good amount of civil liberties made the chopping block, especially after 9/11.

I don’t want to present this as though time started at 9/11, and everything was great before that.  It wasn’t.  Even going as far back as Woodrow Wilson, the government was asking citizens to report and spy on other citizens. 

The government clearly feels entitled to know the comings and goings of private individuals.  Where you are… what you’re doing… why you’re doing it… All under the guise of safety; all justified by “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”.

The fourth amendment to the Constitution of the United States is very clear on the due process of proper searches and seizures:  

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Yet, several government agencies have weaseled their way around this stipulation.

The TSA, for example, searches people.  What is their probable cause?  Booking a flight?

Border patrol pries into the business and vehicles of people… at state borders, not international borders.  What is their probable cause?  Is it inherently suspicious for someone from California to go into Arizona or vice versa?

The IRS is using what is called “John Doe Summonses”. What is the probable cause behind the use of those?  Someone has an offshore account?  Last I checked, having an offshore account is perfectly legal.

There is absolutely a pattern of “pre-crime” unfolding in government policy; some loose idea that one behavior inherently leads to criminal behavior.

So, imagine my surprise when the local law enforcement got up in arms about Google’s Waze app exposing where all the sobriety check points might be in a given area!

Waze is an open source app where users offer input regarding traffic, accidents, police outposts, and even sobriety checkpoints.  Google itself doesn’t make these updates… they only supply the platform in which to do so.

Let’s be VERY clear: Google is no friend to the average citizen when it comes to privacy.  They’ve been offering a feed of information to the NSA since 2009.  They recently made an agreement to share information with the FBI.

The NYPD recently issued a cease-and-desist letter to Google requesting they pull the feature that allows users to post where sobriety checkpoints are located.

NYPD claimed:

“[T]he 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.”

It most certainly does help drivers from encountering the police, but to presume those who avoid those checkpoints are all legally drunk already demonstrates their presumption of guilt.  Checkpoints are congested, which means delays; so, if someone needed to get somewhere quicker, avoiding such a delay is an equally viable reason to avoid that checkpoint.

The truth is, many people — sober or otherwise — just don’t want the hassle of dealing with the police, given their demonstrated propensity to “find” a reason to detain people.

Google responded with the following statement:

“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.”

Google isn’t wrong.  Perhaps if someone knew there were checkpoints, and there was no viable detour, they would decide to stay the night where they are rather than go behind the wheel?  Knowing the higher likelihood of incurring consequences often serves as a deterrent for poor choices.  After all, the same argument is made in defense of gun ownership: violent criminals avoid those who have a gun as part of their risk assessment. 

This isn’t the first time law enforcement called for this app to stop sharing police checkpoints and speed traps.  In 2015, claiming it threatened the safety of law enforcement officers, the National Sheriff’s Association called for Google to take Waze down.

This is causing a disturbance in the force, so to speak, as this likely affects the revenues generated from speed traps and arrests for drunk driving.  It appears government doesn’t appreciate being spied on!  Weird right?

The thing is, prior to Waze, there’s the tried and true methods to warn fellow drivers of police by civilians holding signs or flickering their headlights.  They have been prosecuted for that as well. 

In 2013, the light flickering was determined to fall under the protections offered by the first amendment.  You enter some dark territory when the government doesn’t allow you to talk about their whereabouts!  Free speech has done a lot to protect ourselves and one another.

Waze is a great tool in general.  Whether you have a friend in the area that texts you information or a stranger that posts it on a platform, that exchange of ideas is a protected right.

It boils down to this: the government owes the public full transparency and the public is entitled — i.e. has the right — to its privacy.  In this case, technology is on the side of the people.  The sad part is that the public servants aren’t. 

The important point to remember here is that we are each responsible for protecting our own privacy.  Where technology can help, use it, and defend its availability.  For cyber security, I recommend looking into getting a VPN.

If you are interested in learning how to better protect your privacy, I offer a step-by-step guide to help you preserve some anonymity.  Click here to get started!

Click here to schedule a consultation or here to become a member of our Insider program where you are eligible for free consultations, deep discounts on corporate and trust services, plus a wealth of information on internationalizing your business, wealth and life.

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