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article imageNew York considering 'textalyzers' to fight distracted driving

By Arthur Weinreb     Apr 29, 2017 in Technology
Albany - While still in the development stage, several New York lawmakers want police to be able to use textalyzers to determine if a person was using a hand-held electronic device while driving. Currently, police must obtain a warrant to search phone records.
It is being called a breathalyzer for distracted driving and is currently being developed by the company Cellebrite. One of the company’s engineers, Les Papathanasiou, gave a demonstration of the textalizer for New York state politicians and the media in Albany earlier this week.
A police officer would be able to attach the textalyzer to a driver’s phone and receive data within 90 seconds. The test would be done without the driver having to give up his or her device. The data received would indicate what platforms the driver was using (eg. test messaging, Facebook) and this usage would be date-stamped. The actual content of text messages or what the driver was posting on social media would not be revealed.
The use of a textalzyer would negate the necessity of police from having to show probable cause in order to obtain a warrant to retrieve information from a smartphone or other electronic device.
A lot of the lawmakers are in favour of such a device. Senator Terrence Murphy, a Republican, said there are now more accidents from distracted driving than drunk driving and “This is the next logical step.”
Democrat Assemblyman Felix Ortiz said, “Distracted driving impairment is equal to the drinking impairment and needs to be dealt with.” Murphy and Ortiz are sponsoring a bill that would provide for the use of the textalyzer. Under the proposed legislation, drivers who refused to allow their phones to be tested would be subject to penalties in the same way drivers who refuse to take breath tests are.
Ben Lieberman has been working with Cellebrite on the development of the textalyzer. In 2011, Lieberman’s 19-year-old son was killed in a car crash. The teen was riding in the backseat of a car that crossed the centre line and hit another car head-on. The driver said he had dozed off but Lieberman suspected the driver had been using a smartphone when the crash occurred.
The phone sat in the wrecked vehicle inside a storage yard for weeks. So Lieberman brought a civil suit to obtain the phone records. These records revealed the smartphone had been in use at the time of the crash.
As Lieberman points out, obtaining a warrant to search a phone is no small thing. It involves a district attorney and a judge and is time consuming. He asked people to imagine what it would be like if police had to obtain a warrant every time they wanted to obtain a breath sample.
Many civil libertarians are opposed to the use of a textalyzer. Rashida Richardson, counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said such legislation would allow police to access a person’s private and personal information every time there is a fender-bender. She added it is not even known if the textalyzer can detect distracted driving and its use could impute guilt to a person who was involved in innocent activities.
With the introduction of legislation by Murphy and Ortiz, New York state could become the first American jurisdiction to authorize the use of a textalyzer.
More about textalyzer, breathalyzer, distracted driving, new york civil liberties union, Privacy
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