'Textalyzer' bill wants cops to search phones for distracted drivers

A new bill has been introduced in New York that, if passed, would give police officers the authority to search a driver's phone in the event of an accident. The bill speaks of a so-called 'Textalyzer' technology that will enable cops to "detect" if a cell phone was used "around the time of a crash" without giving them access to any personal data like phone numbers, chat logs, contacts, app data, or photographs. The technology is being developed by Cellebrite, the same company that helped the FBI unlock an iPhone without Apple's help.

The bill is supposedly aimed at distracted driving, giving cops a way to crack down on those who cause an accident by using their phones while operating a vehicle. Assembly Assistant Speaker Felix Ortiz and New York Senator Terrence Murphy are behind the bill, which was introduced earlier this month. The legislation was made in collaboration with Distracted Operators Risk Casualties (DORCs), an awareness organization.

Said DORCs co-founder Ben Lieberman, whose son died in a distracted driving crash in 2011:

I have often heard there is no such thing as a breathalyzer for distracted driving — so we created one. Respecting drivers' personal privacy, however, is also important, and we are taking meticulous steps to not violate those rights.

Hence the name 'textalyzer,' a technology that has not been detailed to any length at this time — the folks behind it merely promise it will protect the driver's privacy while letting officers know if the phone was used "around" the time an accident occurred.

There are many problems with this, of course, not the least of which being concerns that privacy is, indeed, invaded as soon as an officer picks up and is given any data from the phone. As well, this data won't be able to demonstrate whether the phone was the actual cause, in that it only shows that activity happened "around" the time the accident occurred. As well, it has no way of showing whether the driver's phone was being used by an occupant in the car. Whether the technology indicates when hands-free technology was used is unclear at this time.

In a statement, Ortiz said:

Unfortunately, the problem has now developed beyond hands-free phone calling. There's a significant number of drivers who continually engage in reckless behavior, such as texting, using apps and browsing the web on their mobile devices while behind the wheel. These people will continue to put themselves and others at risk unless we come up with preventive ways to successfully stop them.

SOURCE: PRNewswire