USA TODAY US Edition
BlackBerry backpedals on checkpoint apps
Senators worry about tools to thwart police
BlackBerry users no longer will be able to pinpoint police drunken-driving checkpoints.
Following a request Tuesday from four Democratic senators, Ontario, Canada-based Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry, has agreed to pull from its online store downloadable applications that allow its operating systems to identify the locations of local police DUI checkpoints.
Sens. Harry Reid of Nevada, Charles Schumer of New York, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Tom Udall of New Mexico asked RIM, Apple and Google to disable or stop selling the apps for BlackBerry, iPhone and iPad, and Android devices.
USA TODAY reported Monday on the growing popularity of apps that identify law enforcement tools such as DUI checkpoints, speed traps and red-light cameras through user-submitted information that connects with GPS data.
Research In Motion did not respond to a request for further comment. The senators said RIM thanked them “for bringing the issue to the company’s attention and said that they would comply with the senators’ request to remove the applications, likely within the day.”
The senators praised RIM and urged Apple and Google to follow RIM’s lead. Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple, maker of the iPhone and iPad, and Mountain View, Calif.-based Google, which makes the Android, did not respond to requests for comment.
“Drunk drivers will soon have one less tool to evade law enforcement and endanger our friends and families,” the senators said in a joint statement Wednesday. “We appreciate RIM’s immediate reply and urge the other smartphone makers to quickly follow suit.”
The senators’ letter, which did not name any apps, said that one of them contains a database of DUI checkpoints updated in real time. Another allows users to notify other drivers of such crackdowns in real time and has more than 10 million users.
The senators didn’t raise any concerns about the apps’ other features.
In announcing the agreement with RIM, the senators cited statistics showing that someone dies every 50 minutes in a drunken-driving crash.
About 30% of all traffic fatalities in 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available, involved drunken driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That year, drunken-driving deaths fell 7.4% from a year earlier to 10,839, out of a total of 33,808 fatalities, NHTSA says.
Costs of the apps vary. Some are free. One offers subscriptions that range from $9.99 a month to $99.99 for a lifetime subscription.