Distracted driving has been blamed for much of the rise in highway deaths in 2015 and 2016. Most distracted driving involves texting and though numerous states have passed laws to stop the act, it continues to be a key factor in too many highway deaths. One company in San Bernadino, California believes they have the solution: The Textalyzer.
Technology Report by C J Oakes
What is the Textalyzer and How Does it Work?
The Textalyzer is a device manufactured by Cellebrite, a company which specializes in mobile forensics devices. The company made headlines recently for allegedly attempting to hack into the iPhone used by the terrorists in San Bernadino, CA. The Textalyzer is a mobile device which police officers can carry with them to quickly determine whether a traffic violator has been texting or otherwise using their phone just prior to an incident. The state of New York is currently considering whether to legalize its use.
The idea was the brainchild of New York resident Ben Lieberman whose son was killed as a result of a distracted driver. The concept is simple: If police suspect a driver has been engaging in distracted driving by using his/her cell phone, they can inform the driver that they intend to scan their mobile device. A refusal is the same as refusing a breathalyzer–loss of license.
The device would also be used at the scene of a traffic accident. Within 90 seconds, the Textalyzer will scan the phone for physical evidence of swiping and typing. It will not matter if the action as playing a game or sending a text. The record will simply state that the phone was being actively handled in the seconds leading up to the crash.
Without a doubt, this tool will be important in later civil and criminal trials related to car accidents.
The Textalyzer and Privacy Issues
One of the biggest concerns opponents of the Textalyzer present is privacy. Does the device access more than just finger strokes or does it provide law enforcement with more, perhaps the content of the texts themselves?
According to lawmakers such as Félix W. Ortiz who co-sponsored the bi-partisan bill now pending in the New York State Legislature, no. The Textalyzer only records whether a person has accessed anything which is illegal under state law such as text messages, email, and putting the phone to their ear (which is a no-no in NY).
Whether the law will stand up in higher courts or not remains to be seen. To be sure, if passed, this law will eventually be tested in court, perhaps even in the United States Supreme Court. But that is years away.
In the meantime, a couple of things are certain.
- NY will pass this law.
- Other states will follow.
- Texting may or may not be reduced.
- Cellebrite will make a butt-ton of money.
Beyond that, who knows. One other thing is certain though.
Whenever a new technology enters the mainstream, there are problems. Just as texting was unknown a decade ago, so too was distracted driving. Sure, people let distractions such as screaming kids, dropped cigarettes, spilled beer, and their Big Macs distract them from the road, sometimes with fatal consequences, but texting has taken that issue to new heights. Something does need to be done. But at what price?
Technology will continue to challenge notions of privacy and protection in the public interest. These are challenges that were unheard of just a generation ago. The next (or now) generation must find a balance between privacy and protection.