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Senators call for takedown of iPhone apps that locate DUI checkpoints

Four U.S. senators are calling for Apple to remove iPhone and iPad App Store apps that help users to avoid DUI checkpoints, even as rival smartphone maker Research in Motion has agreed to remove offending apps from its BlackBerry App World store.

Democratic Senators Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, Frank Lautenberg and Tom Udall sent letters to Apple, Google and RIM on Tuesday requesting that the companies, which all run prominent mobile application digital storefronts and smartphone platforms, take down or modify apps that notify users of police checkpoints. According to the senators, the apps in question are "harmful to public safety" because they could allow drunk drivers to evade police detection.

"Giving drunk drivers a free tool to evade checkpoints, putting innocent families and children at risk, is a matter of public concern,” the senators said. “We hope that you will give our request to remove these applications from your store immediate consideration.”

The letter sent to Apple was addressed to Scott Forstall, the company's senior vice president of iPhone software. It called out one App Store application for containing a database of DUI checkpoints updated in real-time, while another application, with more than
10 million users, was deemed objectionable because it allowed users to notify each other of DUI checkpoints.

The senators cited growing law enforcement concerns over the apps, quoting a police captain as having said, "If people are going to use those, what other purpose are they going to use them for except to drink and drive?"

Quickly responding to the letter, BlackBerry maker RIM agreed to the request from the senators on Wednesday. According to a press release from the senators, an RIM representative thanked them for bringing the issue to their attention and promised to comply with the request.

The senators applauded RIM for their timely response. "RIM’s decision to remove these apps from their online store prove that when it comes to drunk driving, there should not be an app for that," said Schumer, briefly alluding to Apple's "there's an app for that" ad campaign for the iPhone.

The original letter is included in its entirety below:
March 22, 2011
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,
Inc. 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 Schumer