By Bruce Carton
Modern technology is obviously invaluable to law enforcement’s efforts to apprehend criminals, but the latest confluence of mobile technology and social media is also becoming a powerful tool for avoiding the police.
On his blog, law professor Jonathan Turley highlights the case of Elliot Madison, whom he notes is now the subject of an intriguing constitutional fight with both federal and state authorities. Madison, “a self-described anarchist,” was arrested during the recent G20 summit for using Twitter to send messages on the location of police during the G20 protests.
Madison claims that he was arrested because his tweets were helping people evade the police. Turley writes that “arresting someone for communications based on public observations is an abuse of authority and a violation of the Constitution.” He points out that charging Madison for assisting criminal conduct based on his tweets would gut the First Amendment and create a chilling effect on citizen communications.
The police apparently do not have the same reaction, however, to another technology that is arguably geared toward helping people evade police on the road. TechCrunch reports that a new iPhone and BlackBerry application called Trapster helps users avoid speed traps (a funnier but “R-rated” description of Trapster is available here). Not unlike the Madison case, Trapster relies on users to report speed traps when they see them, allowing other users to avoid tickets.
Interestingly, the police response to Trapster is not to complain that it assists criminal conduct (speeding) as in Madison’s case. Rather, the police have reportedly endorsed Trapster under the theory that “if someone slows down because of (Trapster), it’s accomplishing the same goal of trying to get people to obey the speed limit.” That’s one theory. Then there’s the way Paul Carr thinks of it in that “R-rated” review of his in The Guardian: “Trapster: the mobile distraction for when driving at high speed isn’t f**king dangerous enough.”
Posted at Legal Blog Watch.