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Though it advertises itself as a means to avoid speeding tickets, PhantomAlert is one of a few smart phone apps that alerts subscribers to the exact locations of DUI checkpoints.
Appalled by the DUI app, U.S. Senators Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, Frank Lautenberg and Mark Udall asked Research in Motion (RIM), Apple and Google to remove it from their online stores last month. Only RIM has complied.
Should Apple and Google remove it, too?
According to a CDC panel, checkpoints reduce alcohol-related accidents by nearly 20%.
The concern with PhantomAlert is that the DUI app will reduce this effectiveness by providing inebriated persons with a way to avoid checkpoints. This is especially true for the functional drunk--people who act sober, but are actually incapacitated.
It's unclear whether publicized or unpublicized DUI checkpoints are more effective, with some states, like California, mandating that local law enforcement post exact locations. Even so, it's likely that having this information at the ready will empower some where it should deter.
Preventing drunk driving is an important goal, but there are other competing interests in this scenario.
PhantomAlert and other DUI apps are not illegal. They're actually considered commercial speech and are protected by the First Amendment, which is probably why Apple and Google refuse to remove it, and the Senators can't force them to.
In the end, selling PhantomAlert or any other DUI app requires a decision as to whether free speech is more important than safety.
These companies have made their decision. What's yours?