Local sheriffs around the US are pressuring Google to turn off the police reporting software on its traffic app Waze, the Associated Press reports. The app, which alerts drivers to issues like car accidents and construction work, also lets users warn others when cops are nearby. Now, some police are convinced it's only a matter of time before the app is used by criminals to stalk and potentially harm law enforcement officers.
Waze could be a "cop stalker"
Waze, purchased by Google in 2013, lets users pinpoint police activity on a map and label the officers as "visible" or "invisible" to drivers. Sheriffs like Mike Brown of Bedford County, Virginia, argue that the ease with which users can publicize the location of officers to anyone with a smartphone makes Waze, in essence, a "police stalker."
Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police told the Associated Press, "I can think of 100 ways that it could present an officer-safety issue. There's no control over who uses it. So, if you're a criminal and you want to rob a bank, hypothetically, you use your Waze."
As of now, all of this still is hypothetical. So far, there are no confirmed connections between police attacks and Waze. However, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck says Waze played a role in the December 20th shooting of two New York City police officers. That gunman's Instagram account allegedly contained a screenshot of Waze along with threats to police, but he also tossed his phone more then two miles from where the crime took place.
Last year, the US Transportation Department pressured Congress to pass a bill which would allow the restrictions to be placed on navigation apps if they were to prove dangerous on the road. That bill was mostly concerned with distracted drivers, but it remains to be seen if this will prompt another attempt at regulation.
Cops can use Waze too
Nuala O'Connor, head of the Center for Democracy and Technology said, "I do not think it is legitimate to ask a person-to-person communication to cease simply because it reports on publicly visible law enforcement." O'Connor also pointed out that the privacy violation goes both ways: because the app reveals the location of all users, Waze drivers are conversely sharing their own information with police.