"Textalyzer" Could Allow Police to Search A Driver's Phone
Police say it could be useful during an investigation, but critics say this is an invasion of privacy.
A new tool could help police crack down on distracted driving. It's similar to a breathalyzer, and it can help determine if a driver was texting at the time of a crash.
It's being called a "textalyzer." Police say it could be useful during an investigation, but critics say this is an invasion of privacy.
"Distracted driving is quickly becoming one of the leading causes of crashes, right up there with DUI," said Cpl. Anthony Chimera of the Millcreek Township Police Department's Traffic Division.
The textalyzer could end someone's driving privileges if they don't end their texts before getting behind the wheel. Chimera says the tool could be useful during a traffic investigation.
"Lots of people aren't very truthful with us in determining the events that led up the crash, as far as distracted driving and being on their cell phone," he said.
The textalyzer is similar to a breathalyzer. It would pull information such as the times texts are sent, but not personal data in those conversations. Police would then use that information to help determine if distracted driving led to the crash. New York is attempting to become the first state to legalize textalyzers.
However, critics say the textalyzer could go to far, taking more private information than necessary, even encroaching on civil liberties.
"The access of police to sensitive data on somebody's phone, or sensitive photos on somebody's phone or sensitive documents on somebody's phone could pose as a privacy concern," said John Carlson, an Erie-based attorney specializing in DUI-related offenses.
Carlson, who agrees with Chimera that textalyzers could be useful, sees similarities between a breathalyzer and the so-called "textalyzer." But, he cautions against poorly-written laws that would allow police to overstep their bounds.
"There would have to be a narrowly-tailored basis for allowing police access to the phone," said Carlson. "It couldn't just be unfettered discretion at every traffic stop."
"Texting and driving, I think everyone knows it's illegal and dangerous," Chimera added, "but a lot of people are still doing it."
The textalyzer itself is still in production through Israeli-based company Cellebrite.