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Law Protects Hackers' Ability to Screen DUI Checkpoints

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Want to avoid DUI checkpoints? There are apps for that.

And while lawmakers called on smartphone companies last week to ban the programs that could enable drunk drivers to steer clear of police traps, legal experts say the law protects hackers who install unapproved software onto their phones.

So far, Research in Motion, the company that makes Blackberry phones, is the only company that has complied with the request from four Democratic senators. But even if companies were to ban all DUI dodging apps from their online store, customers would still have a legal right to bypass security software independently.

An exemption was granted in 2010 by the Library of Congress, the office that oversees copyrights, making it impossible for companies to sue individuals for circumventing the company's proprietary security software.

Under the revised rules, it's not illegal for wireless telephone users to hack into a company's security system to access programs that the company has previously disabled if the intent of the hacker is to simply use those programs. This is cited on the government's website as exempt from the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, passed during the Clinton administration.

"Jailbreaking" or "rooting" a phone is a term used by hackers to describe the process in which a smartphone is unhinged from company control -- it allows for the installation of unapproved programs. Savvy customers could load up the DUI dodging software as long as the program wasn't obtained illegally.

But surely an app that warns the driver of a nearby police DUI checkpoint must be illegal? Not so -- mobile applications such as Trapster work by allowing individuals to report the location of a police DUI checkpoint or speeding camera nearby thus creating a so-called "Trap Map" displayable on the dashboard of a car.

Because the handheld app gathers information through ordinary citizens phoning in the location of checkpoint, legal experts say that there is no way to write a law banning this without encroaching on our right to freedom of expression guaranteed in the Constitution.

Emma Llansó, a fellow at the Center for Democracy and Technology specializing in First Amendment issues, she doesn't believe that the senators have any legal recourse to outlaw the apps.

And because of the ban's likely violation of the Constitution, Congress will likely never create a law banning the app.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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