“Textalyzer” bill allows law enforcement to access your cellphone

In New York, a proposed bill will soon help cops find out if drivers involved in a car crash had been using their cellphones at the time of the accident. A textalyzer device, which acts in the same way as a breathalyzer, will be used to determine if cellphone use was the cause of a distracted driving-related crash.

As expected, civil liberties groups are up in arms over this development, claiming it encroachs on the people’s right to cellphone privacy. Advocates of the bill, the Distracted Operators Risk Casualties (DORC,) whose cause is supporting legal action for SMS-related crashes, say it’s about time a textalyzer is created. Just as a breathalyzer measures the blood alcohol content of a driver involved in a collision, so does this new device reveal texting use in the same scenario.

The textalyzer is designed by Cellebrite, an Israel-based tech firm whose focus is on data extraction. It is an abridged version of a more powerful phone-scraping app from the same company, but this device will protect the phone’s contents from disallowed access. The information it gives out is limited to its usage during the time of the crash.

However, civil liberties advocates are skeptical. Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, says there are many ways to get around the restriction. Also, even if the purpose of the bill is to discourage cellphone usage while driving, using a textalyzer will violate people’s privacy rights. It could read the phone’s content and covertly collect the information stored inside. The wording of the proposed law is also controversial as it gives the cops “implied consent” to examine the phone.

But Ben Lieberman (no relation to Donna) DORC co-founder whose son died in a text messaging-related accident assured critics that all steps will be taken to ensure that privacy is respected.

If the bill gets approval, New York will be the first state to use the textalyzer as a tool for investigating car accidents and this will certainly be a step forward in the move to minimize incidents of distracted driving. An automotive accident lawyer in Fort Worth is hopeful that other states will follow suit.

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