U.S. senators ask Apple to pull police-evasion apps

In a plea to Apple, four U.S. senators have taken aim at App Store apps that help users evade police checkpoints meant to snag drunk drivers.

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A group of U.S. senators is calling on Apple to remove applications that alert users to the presence of police and other law enforcement checkpoints that have been set up to combat drunk driving.

U.S. Senators Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) are named as senders in the letter, which is addressed to Apple's senior vice president of iPhone software, Scott Forstall. No specific applications are named, but the letter highlights apps that "contain a database of DUI [driving under the influence] checkpoints updated in real-time" as well as one that sends out real-time alerts about the existence of these checkpoints.

"With more than 10,000 Americans dying in drunk-driving crashes every year, providing access to iPhone and iPad applications that alert users to DUI checkpoints is harmful to public safety," the group wrote. "We know that your company shares our desire to end the scourge of drunk driving and we therefore would ask you to remove these applications from your store."

A quick search on the App Store shows several such apps, some with suggestive names such as Tipsy and Fuzz Alert Pro, some that cost money and some that are free. Alongside these more specialized applications are crowd-sourced, social-network-style apps that can alert users to general police presence on local roads and highways.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Along with drunk driving apps, Apple is currently under fire for approving an iPhone application from a religious ministry that takes a stance on homosexuality, encouraging users to "cure" themselves of it. That particular app has been up on the store since mid-February, and continues to be made available.

To combat any confusion or ambiguities on its rules and regulations for application approval, Apple released a set of App Store guidelines back in September that spells out what apps are and are not allowed to do. Included on that list of "don'ts" are "apps that encourage excessive consumption of alcohol or illegal substances, or encourage minors to consume alcohol or smoke cigarettes."

Update at 9:10 a.m. on 3/23: The same letter was also sent to Google's Eric Schmidt, as well as Research in Motion for the Android Marketplace and The Blackberry App World respectively.

Here's a full copy of the senators' letter:

Mr. Scott Forstall
Senior Vice President, iPhone Software
Apple, Inc.
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014

Dear Mr. Forstall,

We write today with grave concern regarding the ease with which downloadable applications for the iPhone, iPad, and other Apple products allow customers to identify where local police officers have set up DUI checkpoints. With more than 10,000 Americans dying in drunk-driving crashes every year, providing access to iPhone and iPad applications that alert users to DUI checkpoints is harmful to public safety.

We know that your company shares our desire to end the scourge of drunk driving and we therefore would ask you to remove these applications from your store.

One application, your company acknowledges in the product description, contains a database of DUI checkpoints updated in real-time. Another application, with more than 10 million users, also allows users to alert each other to DUI checkpoints in real time.

Police officers from across the country have voiced concern about these products, with one police captain saying, "If people are going to use those, what other purpose are they going to use them for except to drink and drive?" With a person dying every 50 minutes in a drunk-driving crash, this technology should not be promoted to your customers--in fact, it shouldn't even be available.

We appreciate the technology that has allowed millions of Americans to have information at their fingertips, but giving drunk drivers a free tool to evade checkpoints, putting innocent families and children at risk, is a matter of public concern. We hope that you will give our request to remove these applications from your store immediate consideration.

Thank you for your prompt and careful consideration of this matter. Should you have additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact our offices.

Sincerely,

Senator Reid
Senator Schumer
Senator Lautenberg
Senator Udall

 

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