Senate Going After Roadblock Apps Is a First Amendment Issue


I want to talk about Apple’s rights regarding roadblock warning apps, but first, let’s get something straight: If you get behind the wheel of an automobile while impaired in any fashion, it’s my sincere desire that you be caught and harshly penalized, hopefully well before you hurt or kill yourself or any innocent bystander. Simply put: If you drive impaired, you’re an idiot. If someone you know and love was the victim of a drunk driver, you have my sincerest sympathies; I wish there were better mechanisms to prevent an impaired individual from even getting behind the wheel of a vehicle.

For me, as a creative professional (I’m a writer and photographer),┬áthe First Amendment of the Constitution is not selective. It simply states that government cannot tell you what you can, or cannot, say. I may not agree with what you have to say, and may very well find it offensive, but I will defend your right to say it.

The First Amendment in a Nut Shell, and How It Applies

I’m not saying Apple shouldn’t pull the apps; I’m just uncomfortable with lawmakers making the request. According to the U.S. constitution, “[c]ongress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a┬áredress of grievances.”

If you submit a controversial app to Apple, like a roadblock reporting app, Apple is within their rights to refuse to publish it. Since the First Amendment only refers to “the Government,” not a company, as barred from censuring you, Apple can refuse to publish whatever they want. Likewise, GigaOM, and any other corporation I freelance for, can refuse to run any piece for any reason.

Congress — or in this case, a few senators — insisting Apple pull the app, to my non-Constitional-lawyer’s eyes, straddles the line of the First Amendment. Their actions infringe on Apple’s Right of Free Speech as an American publisher. It’s a blurry line, here. Four Democratic senators do not a congress make, nor has any law or formal action passed either the Senate or the House. The Senators are working around this issue by asking nicely.

What Should Apple Do?

Frankly, I’m a little surprised Apple even published the apps. I don’t think they should have in the first place. If they do pull the apps, I’m not going to mourn their loss at all. But I do believe that decision to publish should be Apple’s decision to make; not that of Congress or a group of senators.

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