With no apparent legal leg to stand on, Senator Bob Casey pressures Apple to remove app

With no apparent legal leg to stand on, Senator Bob Casey pressures Apple to remove app

Summary: If we allow our politicians to treat online activities as unworthy of fundamental American rights, we will be allowing them to erode our fundamental American rights.

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ACT I - A tale of two telephones

Ring. One-ringy-dingy. Two-ringy-dingy.

APPLE: "Hello, Apple, how may we sell you?"

SENATOR: "Hello comrades. Zees is Comrade Senator Bob Casey of ze Politburo of ze United States. Ve disapprove of, what you call it? App? Yes, app. Ve disapprove of app you allow on your app store."

APPLE: "Well, to be fair, sir, many people disagree with us. Have you read ever read ZDNet? Those people, sheesh."

SENATOR: "No, ve are not talking of ze Zee-Dee-Net. Ve are talking an app ve want you to disappear."

APPLE: "I'm sorry, sir, we don't just take things off our store."

SENATOR: "Yes you do. Ve read about it all the time. Zose Zee-Dee-Net peoples are alvays complaining."

APPLE: "Oh, that's right, we do. Who's hard work would you like us to delete? Who's income stream would you like us to destroy?"

SENATOR: "Zat's much better. Vee wish you to delete ze app from zees driver training company."

APPLE: "Consider it done, sir. They never existed."

ACT II - Back at the Comrade Senator's office

Dancing. High-fiving. Celebrating.

COMRADE SENATOR'S AIDE #1: "Vee did it. Vee did it. Vee did it! Vee disappeared zoss bastards."

COMRADE SENATOR'S AIDE #2: "And it vas so easy. Ve didn't even have to go to court, file charges, or even contact the company."

COMRADE SENATOR'S AIDE #1: "Of course not. Zees is the age of the Internet. All that due process ztuff no long longer applies. Vee just demand, and eet happens."

COMRADE SENATOR'S AIDE #2: "Ain't America grand? Let's issue a press release. Zees is sure to net us big dollars from our contributors."

COMRADE SENATOR'S AIDE #1: "Yeah, zat iz true. And ZNN might even put our man on air and congratulate him for being all about law and order."

COMRADE SENATOR'S AIDE #2: "Vee are all about ze law and order. Our orders, who cares about the law?"

Laughing. Back-slapping. Chortling.

COMRADE SENATOR'S AIDE #1: "Yah. Vee are ze law."

ACT III - The real story

Here we go again. Another government official has decided to attack a small business without due process, appeal, or even warning.

See also: Ridiculous: judge orders sites de-indexed from Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

In this case, Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. decided he wanted to have an app removed from Apple's App store. Now, to be clear, the app was somewhat ill-advised. It was a joke app that let users make images of drivers' licenses from all 50-states, put in fun names, and fun pictures, and share those images online.

Falsifying drivers' licenses for fun? Not the smartest move, ever.

The app was produced by DriversEd.com, which provides government-supported drivers' education training throughout the United States. In other words, they're probably one of the good guys. It was probably meant in good fun, although ill-advised.

But Casey didn't like the app. The concern about fake IDs is obvious, but his way of going about solving the problem says volumes about how our politicians respect businesses that operate online.

News Flash: Most businesses will operate online sooner or later, so if we allow our politicians to treat online activities as unworthy of fundamental American rights, we will be allowing them to erode our fundamental American rights.

Rather than contacting the vendor, or even filing legal papers against DriversEd.com (which, technically, he probably couldn't because they may not have been actually violating the law), Casey called on a higher power. He wrote to Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, and asked Cook to have the application removed.

Cook did. The application is now gone.

Casey was then so proud of himself that he issued a press release, crowing "I urged Apple to take the responsible step of removing this dangerous app, and I'm pleased that the app is no longer available in the store."

Comrade Senator seemed quite pleased with himself. After all, it's much easier to use your clout to make a phone call than it is to jump through the hoops to employ proper legal means that demonstrate the respect of the fundamental rights of American citizens that one would expect from a lawmaker.

Let me be clear: it's not that I support an app that lets you create images of drivers' licenses, because there are obvious problems. It's that I condemn the way Casey acted, going outside the bounds of the laws he's sworn to uphold and defend, using his influence to attack a small business, and having the bad taste to brag about it.

I'm posting this because I'm starting to get a little worried about this trend I'm seeing of simple complaints resulting in loss of domain names and loss of app distribution, with no recourse or warning, no due process, and no checks and balances. This doesn't seem like how America should run.

Topics: Apple, Apps, CXO, IT Employment

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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81 comments
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  • RE: With no apparent legal leg to stand on, Senator Bob Casey pressures Apple to remove app

    Err... While I "kinda" agree with your stance on "due process", I think this example doesn't help your case. Anyone with even the slightest intelligence can see that an app that can be used to falsify government documents is a "bad idea", and given this "common sense" would suggest you should remove it from distribution.

    Now I'd say this is "exceptional" most of the time I'd not want it "to go down like that", but given the obvious problems in this case, I think we can "let this slide".

    A better question is "which numbskull in Apple approved this in the first place?"
    jeremychappell
    • RE: With no apparent legal leg to stand on, Senator Bob Casey pressures Apple to remove app

      @jeremychappell On the other hand, two wrongs don't make a right. That is why the US has a judicial system.<br><br>If they have acted incorrectly, let them stand before a court and have judgement passed on them.

      If he thought the app was illegal, he could have gotten an injunction and stopped the app from being distributed, legally, before the matter was settled.

      Instead, he seems to think the US law is a long winded inconvinience and he should just have his way, whether he is in the right or not.

      This is as bad as ICE redirecting domains belonging to companies and individuals outside the USA, without informing them, giving them a chance to defend themselves or taking them to court!

      Or the (un)Patriot(ic) Act leaving Europeans open to prosecution, if they dare to put their data in the cloud.

      The US polit seems to hold itself for judge, jury and executioner for the whole world, courts and rights be damned!
      wright_is
      • Judicial system

        @wright_is How long would that take and how much taxpayer money would go into this? The senator did not force the company to do anything, and the author's label of "attacking" is so misplaced. Let's say someone creates an app that aides you in performing criminal activity ... creating a bomb, acquiring a gun, etc. ... how long do we wait for the judicial process to address this? In the interim, people's lives are at risk.
        davidr69
      • RE: With no apparent legal leg to stand on, Senator Bob Casey pressures Apple to remove app

        @davidr69 [b] Let's say someone creates an app that aides you in performing criminal activity ... creating a bomb, acquiring a gun, etc. ... how long do we wait for the judicial process to address this? In the interim, people's lives are at risk.[/b]

        You do realize that this same argument could be used about the internet, right/ What is to stop someone from using Google to search bombmaking, from searching for places to buy guns, or whatever?
        athynz
      • RE: With no apparent legal leg to stand on, Senator Bob Casey pressures Apple to remove app

        @wright_is There's no legal process to go on here. I used to work at the HQ of a major retailer. If we decided to discontinue selling a product, that's not a legal issue, that's a corporate issue. No one is legally entitled to have their products on someone's shelf space (real or virtual).
        It's the same with "freedom of speech". That prevents the government from prosecuting you for what you say. It doesn't mandate that your local newspaper has to run your letter to the editor, Facebook must allow you to post anything you want to their website, ZDNet comments can't be deleted, etc.
        Apple reserves the right to delete apps from their store for any, every or no reason, and they did so... and they had the right to. Senator Casey didn't violate any "legal due process", nor did Apple. I wouldn't want software I made soft under terms like that, but that's another issue. The vendor agreed to them and Apple executed them. I don't see what the problem is, other than that the complainant is an elected official vs. an advocacy group, religious group, consumer group, audience of some outraged talking head, readers of a ZDNet blogger, etc.
        jgm@...
      • RE: With no apparent legal leg to stand on, Senator Bob Casey pressures Apple to remove app

        @david69 That is why you get an injunction, like Apple have done with Samsung in several countries. They aren't allowed to sell the phones or tablets, because they "could" breach copyright.

        They can't sell their devices, until they either win an appeal or they win the case, in which case, Apple will have to pay them damages.

        The same should be the case here. The Senator believes the app is illegal or could promote illegal activity, fine. Get an injunction, then sort it out in court. If he is wrong, he has to pay up for lost trade.

        @jgm Yes, Apple can decide not to sell apps, it has a process, where apps are screened and unsuitable apps are blocked and the author either has to give up or adjust the app to comply with Apple's rules.

        The difference between a retail store and Apple's App Store is, that if a retailer decides not to stock my product, I can go to another retailer and if none want to stock it, I can sell it direct. HOW do I do that with an iOS app? How can I sell directly to users?

        Apple should have an extra duty of care, in these situations, that they only remove an app if it breaks a law or an injunction is produced to block the app, until the matter is cleared.

        Look at the cases of the websites that ICE took off line last year, dajaz1 was offline for a year, even though they did nothing illegal and had waivers for all the content they hosted. After over 12 months offline, ICE releases the domain back to its owner, no apology, no compensation, nothing! How is that in any way or form justice?
        wright_is
    • RE: With no apparent legal leg to stand on, Senator Bob Casey pressures Apple to remove app

      @jeremychappell

      The app can no more be used to falsify legal documents than photoshop or MS paint can be used to do the job. Unless the app also points you to a nice illegal supplier of raw stock and unless the app also shows how to include all the nice security features. The app was a funny image file of a license, not an actual method of creating a fake license. Maybe 20-25 years ago when everyone was still using simple paper licenses this might have been a concern. Then again, maybe the Senator is still living in that world.
      Ididar
    • What's next

      @jeremychappell

      Some app "claiming" that the earth was created billions of years ago, that Man didn't walk alongside of Brontosaurus Rex? Sheesh, Newt might want to find that one offensive enough to snub it out!

      Doesn't everyone watch Terra Nova? It makes it clear that the Earth was created last Tuesday, people !!!! Just check the "good book", it'll 'xplain everythin'.

      Now back to our regularly scheduled programming of complaining about $10,000 bets.
      rock06r
      • nice

        @rock06r

        OK, I laughed out loud at that, nice work! :-)
        omdguy
    • RE: With no apparent legal leg to stand on, Senator Bob Casey pressures Apple to remove app

      @jeremychappell Actions like this establish bad precedents which can later be used to excuse even worse behaviors by the government. Government employees should not be allowed to bypass rules which are there for a reason. Repeatedly skirting due process and checks & balances is why all of our digital communication is now monitored gestapo-style by rooms full of NSA equipment installed at every major communication hub in the U.S.A.

      Read about it:
      http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/12/23/politics/main1165139.shtml?tag=mncol;lst;2
      BillDem
      • RE: With no apparent legal leg to stand on, Senator Bob Casey pressures Apple to remove app

        @BillDem
        It was REQUESTED that they remove the app, not forced by any government means, and honestly if any request wether you agree with it or not can be decided without an expensive and taxpayer paid court system and all the high paid litigators is a benefit as far as I see it. Now anybody who really saw worth in this app can go download fart apps all day long and not offend anyone.
        partman1969@...
      • Meanwhile back in the real world

        @partman1969
        If you are a heavily watch-dogged corporation, and a United States Congressperson <b>urges</b> you to take a particular action, what do you call that? You call that pressure.
        To quote the 'good' Legislator "I **urged** Apple to take the responsible step of removing this dangerous app, and I???m pleased that the app is no longer available in the store." (emphasis added)

        This is the real world and in the real world people with clout exert pressure every time they open their mouths. That's what clout is! If you think a sitting member of Congress doesn't have it, then either you don't live in the USA, or you're not really thinking about it.
        use_what_works_4_U
      • RE: With no apparent legal leg to stand on, Senator Bob Casey pressures Apple to remove app

        @partman1969 So I can use the Android App Market and download fart apps all day long and not offend anyone? Cool. because there are at least 1,000 fart apps available on Google's Android App Market that I can try. Oh wait, that was a closet fandroid's wannabe burn on iOS then. Right. Got it.

        Like I said above this move - despite the costs savings - sets a dangerous precedent. What is to stop Senator Casey, President Obama, or any other governmental figure from requesting an app that somehow offends them to be removed from the App Store or even one of the Android App markets? After all Tim Cook did it once, right? IMHO Cook is a spineless worm for pulling the app at Casey's request. he should not have pulled the app without some sort of review of the app to see if it follows the guidelines of the Apple App Store and then act accordingly.
        athynz
      • RE: With no apparent legal leg to stand on, Senator Bob Casey pressures Apple to remove app

        @BillDem What rules were bypassed? What due process? What checks and balances? Everyone is repeated Mr. Gerwirtz's faux outrage without being able to explain what they're outraged about. This is precisely the same as Apple deleting any other app from their store under their own arbitrary/undefined set of policies.
        jgm@...
    • RE: With no apparent legal leg to stand on, Senator Bob Casey pressures Apple to remove app

      @jeremychappell
      There is an approval process that all apps have to go through before they are allowed in the app store. Thank you for pointing out that nobody involved in this process has "even the slightest intelligence", which explains how the app got there in the first place.
      john-whorfin
    • RE: With no apparent legal leg to stand on, Senator Bob Casey pressures Apple to remove app

      @jeremychappell "let it slide" THIS time? Ok, so who gets to define when the line is crossed? Isn't that what the courts are for? Again, its not about the App, its about HOW the process was done. Without checks and balances, we have dictatorships.
      ccs9623
      • RE: With no apparent legal leg to stand on, Senator Bob Casey pressures Apple to remove app

        @ccs9623 Again... what law do you imagine was sidestepped? The law that once Apple begins selling your product, it must do so forever? *I* signed a petition to ask Steve Jobs to remove an app from his store that, under the guise of being a "questionaire", was really a horribly offensive attack against homosexual people, gay marriage, and related issues. Mr. Jobs agreed with the petitioners and had the app removed. Were the tens of thousands who signed the petition violating some court or legal rule? Did Mr. Jobs initiate a government dictatorship when he removed this app? Or did he just execute the rights Apple had reserved to remove apps from the store?

        This faux outrage is ridiculous.
        jgm@...
    • RE: With no apparent legal leg to stand on, Senator Bob Casey pressures Apple to remove app

      @jeremychappell Not having seen the app I wonder if it was more in line with some of the fake driver's licenses one can find at a tourist trap... and really who would have a driver's license on a mobile phone anyhow? It STILL would not be legal identification.<br><br>Moving on to Senator Casey - why did he think it was right to write Tim Cook to have a app taken off of the market? We have legal due process for a reason and Senator Casey just bypassed it. Tim Cook is also to blame for that as he had his minions remove the app.<br><br>Here are the facts: An app in Apple's App Store that displeased the senator was removed without due process. It was never proven that the app was illegal. <br><br>This has now set a precedent. What is to stop Tim Cook from removing any other apps that Senator Casey, the Senate, or any other government decides does not belong?
      athynz
    • RE: With no apparent legal leg to stand on, Senator Bob Casey pressures Apple to remove app

      @jeremychappell

      OMG! The Secret Service MUST immediately raid every dollar store in America! They had a $200 bill with Bill Clinton's face on it!
      tkejlboom
    • I must agree with the previous poster...

      In the U.S. you can invoke your 1st amendment rights and publish a book on how to create an atomic bomb, but you're lucky if amazon or any other bookstore will allow you to sell it.

      I think this is a common practice on brick-and-mortar and see no reason it won't apply to the click-and-mortar.
      cosuna