The Debate Rages About Drunk Driving Checkpoint Apps for Smartphones

In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court declared in a 6-3 decision that highway sobriety checkpoints do not violate the constitutional prohibition of unreasonable search and seizure. The court said that for the police to stop a car at a checkpoint is a "seizure" by the government, but that it is not an unreasonable one considering the minimal interruption, effectiveness and seriousness of the governmental interest in public safety.

Fast forward about 20 years to the age of the Smartphone and the availability of countless "apps" or computer applications that can be uploaded to such a phone. Sales are reportedly brisk of apps with the ability to warn a driver of the current locations of drunk driving checkpoints.

The obvious debates: Are the DUI checkpoint apps meant to help people avoid traffic backups at the roadblocks or are they meant to help drunk drivers avoid getting caught? What about privacy and free speech rights of phone owners and app creators?

Four prominent Democratic senators led the charge against these apps: Charles Schumer of New York, Harry Reid of Nevada, Tom Udall of New Mexico and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. In March 2011, they directly requested in a letter that Google, Apple and Research In Motion (of BlackBerry fame) each stop offering DUI checkpoint apps in their online stores. RIM did so the same week.

On May 10, 2011, the new U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and Law - on which Sen. Schumer sits - held a hearing on mobile-device privacy. Two of the witnesses were from companies that sold such apps: Alan Davidson from Google and Guy L. "Bud" Tribble of Apple.

Sen. Schumer asked the two of them to take a month to review the DUI checkpoint apps and report back. A few weeks later Apple changed its review guidelines and said it would reject those private apps (as opposed to those from public agencies) that had DUI checkpoint data or "encourage and enable drunk driving." However, it did not agree to review those apps already in the store, only to do so for future apps, which was met by the senators with concern.

Google has not taken action to eliminate such apps from its online store and reportedly has said that the apps do not violate its content policies.

It will be interesting to see how the ongoing struggle over sobriety checkpoint apps between privacy and free-speech supporters and public-safety advocates plays out. In the meantime, if you have trouble with police at a checkpoint, or are stopped on suspicion of drunk driving, contact an experienced Criminal Defense attorney as early as possible to fight for your rights and defense.

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