Is Google Maps & Waze obstructing government administration by showing the location of speed traps and speed enforcement / red light cameras?

By mapping the location of speed traps, speed cameras, and DWI check points, is Google Maps and Waze obstructing government administration? The New York City Police Department believes so.

In a cease and desist letter from Ann Prunty, Acting Deputy Commissioner, NYPD Legal Matters to Google dated February 2, 2019, Commissioner Prunty demanded that Google immediately remove the ability for the public to report locations of DWI check points and other similar data such as the location of speed traps and speed / red light cameras. The legal justification for the aforementioned demand was stated by Commissioner Prunty as follows:

“Individuals who post the locations…may be engaging in criminal conduct since such actions could be intentional attempts to prevent and/or impair the administration of the DWI laws and other relevant criminal and traffic laws.”

What Commissioner Prunty is attempting to articulate is that Google Maps and Waze, by allowing a feature to give motorists a heads up to DWI check points and speed traps, is engaging in the prohibited criminal behavior of obstructing governmental administration in the second degree, NY Penal Law 195.05.

Before the NYPD and Commissioner Prunty goes around accusing Google and Waze of a crime, it would behoove everyone if we took a look at what the statute prohibits. To be found guilty of obstructing government administration, the person must do as follows:

  1. intentionally obstructs, impairs or perverts the administration of law or other governmental function or
  2. prevents or attempts to prevent a public servant from performing an official function

However, that is not all that is required. The obstruction must be done actively in one or more of the following ways:

  1. by means of intimidation, physical force or interference, or
  2. by means of any independently unlawful act, or
  3. by means of interfering, whether or not physical force is involved, with radio, telephone, television or other telecommunications systems owned or operated by [a government agency] or
  4. by means of releasing a dangerous animal

Before writing her missive, Commissioner Prunty should have read the statute and applied the law to the facts of what is occurring. It is an impossibility that in allowing one Google Map or Waze app user to transmit the location of public servants doing overt, public work could in any way be construed as interfering with the administration of government.

By transmitting a speed trap location, no one is obstructing or preventing the police from running radar there. The police are free as the wind to do as they please, even if the location is known through the Google Map or Waze app.

Furthermore, even if it did intentionally obstruct the administration of government function, it is still not a crime, as the obstruction must be done through intimidation, physical force, interference, an unlawful act, releasing a dangerous animal, or interfering with government communication systems.

There is nothing unlawful about a person, Google, or Waze posting on a map the location of a speed trap or photo enforcement cameras. This is protected conduct and speech under the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.

Moreover, it is impossible to construe merely showing the location of police activity on a map as doing so using intimidation, force, or interference whatsoever. In fact, news agencies report the locus of police activity in real time all the time. If communicating the location of police activity over an app is illegal, so would be reporting a live chase or any police activity in real time. Indeed, if this were illegal conduct every time you told a friend about a speed trap you are aware of, that too would be a crime.

If you have been issued a NYC or New York State speeding ticket, we know that you may have question or concerns. If this is the case, stop what you are doing and call us now. We are a boutique law practice dedicated to traffic ticket defense, and are available 24 / 7. We answer questions from the public about their tickets and concerns all day every day, and we’d love to assist you with any questions that you may have!