NY Proposes 'Textalyzer' Bill

A new law proposed by state Sen. Terrence Murphy and Assemblyman Felix Ortiz would give police permission to search any phone or portable device at the scene of an accident. Cellebrite, an Israeli company that helps law enforcement crack smartphones, is marketing a device it’s calling a “textalyzer” that would analyze a driver’s phone, said Wired.

The bill reads in part: “Any person who operates a motor vehicle in this state shall be deemed to have given consent to field testing of his or her mobile telephone and/or portable electronic device for the purpose of determining the use thereof while operating a motor vehicle provided that such testing is conducted by or at the direction of a police officer, after such person has operated a motor vehicle involved in an accident or collision involving damage to real or personal property, personal injury or death.”

The proposed law further says that any refusal to comply with a police officer demanding to search an accident victim’s cellphone at the scene will lose his or her driver’s license, even if that person is not found to be at fault in the accident, reported the Guardian. The law would also suspend “non-resident operating privilege” – the right of drivers with non-New York licenses to drive their cars in the state.

The bill's advocates insist there are no privacy concerns, claiming in a press release that Cellebrite's technology “completely avoids drivers' personal data” when it scans their devices and does not collect any messages, contacts, emails or other content.

No provision in the bill is made for people who don’t have their cellphones with them.

The bill was announced in collaboration with activist group Distracted Operators Risk Casualties (Dorcs), a group founded by parents of children involved in crashes caused by drivers distracted by their devices. Should it pass the legislation will be called Evan’s Law, after Dorcs co-founder Ben Lieberman’s 19-year-old son, who was killed in a collision caused by a distracted driver in 2011.

Privacy advocates say it's not clear how the Cellebrite technology can help curb that behavior without putting privacy and civil liberties at risk. “Certainly distracted driving is a serious problem, but I think there are still many serious questions about this technology,” Mariko Hirose, a senior staff attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union, told Motherboard. "For one, it's not clear if you'd have to enter your password in order for this to work. Our perspective is that this is a very serious public safety concern, but this bill is ill-conceived and not tailored to the problem."

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