By on April 12, 2016

texting behind the wheel of death

As the state of New York debates new distracted driving legislation, an Israeli firm is putting the finishing touches on a “textalyzer” device that could rat out drivers for using their phone before a crash.

Israeli mobile forensics firm Cellebrite developed the data-scanning device, according to Ars Technica, which could become the newest — and most controversial — law enforcement tool since the Taser.

Cellebrite, which sounds like a medication for over-sexed honors students, specializes in data extraction and decoding, and boasts of its 15,000-plus military and law enforcement customers on its website. The firm really knows its stuff — it’s generally believed that they helped the FBI hack into the iPhone at the heart of the San Bernardino/Apple controversy.

If used as a way of gathering evidence for a distracted driving charge, the textalyzer would have to respect Fourth Amendment privacy rights, meaning conversations, phone numbers and photos would remain private.

At least, that’s how it’s spelled out in the legislation being studied by the New York Senate’s transportation committee. Cellebrite’s device would tell law enforcement whether the driver’s phone was in use prior to a collision, after which a warrant might be needed to determine what kind of interaction the driver was having.

Obviously, voice calls via hands-free calling would put a driver in the clear, but it’s easy to imagine shades-of-grey scenarios that would challenge a textalyzer. Will it recognize text-to-speech entry over Bluetooth? What if the driver’s phone was texting before a crash, but there’s a second occupant in the vehicle?

Cellebrite already knows how to crawl deep into your phone, so a textalyzer would just be a watered-down version of technology they already posses.

Senate Bill S6325A, named “Evan’s Law” after the 2011 distracted driving death of 19-year-old Evan Lieberman, would require that any driver involved in a crash would be required to hand over their phone to police for testing. Anyone who refuses to surrender their phone will have their license driving privileges immediately revoked, regardless of eventual guilt or innocence.

If the New York legislation passes, Cellebrite would join other companies in bidding on the textalyzer contract. Such a law would be a watershed moment for road safety legislation, so you can bet that other states are watching closely — and mulling their own laws.

(Our thanks to reader Dan for pointing out this technological development.)

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

67 Comments on “‘Can I Have Your License, Registration and Phone, Please’...”


  • avatar

    How am I supposed to hand over my phone whilst still recording you officer?

    • 0 avatar
      wumpus

      That is why you have a hidden go-pro (or simply a hidden tracphone without airtime). After announcing he is being recorded, simply hand over the recording device (preferably not an unlocked phone. That might require additional burners at which point you really *don’t* want him finding that go-pro).

      There is a reason this is a variation of the oldest trick in the book. It works.

  • avatar

    Because the vast majority of people have fingerprint recognition on their phones and iPads/tablets…

    …even if we are dead, investigations can still get into our devices simply by rubbing the devices on our dead fingertips.

    Thus exposing our browser history, secret pictures, selfie videos and other secrets to the world.

    This is probably the greatest example of Big Brother ever and they made us pay for it ourselves.

    People used to say they wouldn’t ever allow themselves to be tracked. Now they have enough devices to ensure they are.

    We all have HD recording devices and record the exploits of other people.

    Now they have our fingerprints.

    • 0 avatar
      Piston Slap Yo Mama

      I’m not handing my phone to nobody, nowhere under any circumstances. Hey B&B – did you know that if your “password” is a thumbprint or the biometrics of your face that you’ve waived your 5th Amendment rights for self-incrimination? Big Brother can LEGALLY compel you to put your thumb the phone’s print reader – but can’t make you disclose your password. Think about that for a bit. Go get a coffee if that helps.
      http://time.com/3558936/fingerprint-password-fifth-amendment/
      If you state “lol I’ve got nothing to hide anyway” feel free to kiss my black ass.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I didn’t know that and thanks for sharing. Losing the Fifth Amendment at all, let alone for something so trivial, is insane.

      • 0 avatar
        wumpus

        Are you seriously taking legal advice from Time magazine/website?

        Passwords are sometimes protected, sometimes not. Depends on the judge and likely how the various courts above have ruled, but until SCOTUS rules on it I wouldn’t expect uniform coverage.

        • 0 avatar
          Piston Slap Yo Mama

          Dear Wumpus: I only posted the one link but could’ve posted many others. It’s not just Time. As The Clash say:
          This is a public service announcement
          With guitar
          Know your rights all three of them!

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Watch to see how it unfolds. If the Cellebrite tool becomes a routine part of “license and registration, sir” then what is actually happening is a FOREIGN company is in fact accessing your phone and stealing your data under contract from USG. Imagine how you’d feel if a Chinese or Russian company were involved, and what the outcry might be.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      @28-Cars-Later – you raise a valid point. The problem lies in the fact that the majority of people do not know or do not care. How many cloud based storage systems are “foreign”? Spyware and tracking cookies are not border specific either. The other question is this: are foreign companies any better/worse than our own for using our own personal data for their own profit?

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Good questions. I can only speculate, but frequently these type of companies have formal or informal ties to the intelligence services of their parent countries. Remember the _NSAKEY?

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NSAKEY

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          28-Cars-Later – That is an interesting tidbit. There are those that say that Google has never been hit with monopoly/antitrust laws because they share information.

          “Intelligence gathering” is a misnomer. At times I wonder if government has the “intelligence” to accurately interpret anything.

    • 0 avatar
      VenomV12

      Well we are letting the Chinese buy up all of our companies and some major important real estate anyway, not like that won’t create huge national security issues one day down the road.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        The same happened with Japan until it entered it’s Lost Decade(s). The USG doesn’t seem to be very concerned with it’s sovereignty or national security at times.

        • 0 avatar
          TMA1

          Don’t worry, the Chinese are just buying up all that land for the same reason the Japanese did. So Americans can go to work building their cars here. Now, let’s start cutting them some tax breaks!

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            Alternative theory: investors look for good investments, regardless of national borders.

          • 0 avatar
            TMA1

            Don’t think of them as investors. Think of them as wealthy people trying to protect their money from their government. The CCP is desperate to keep rich folks and their money at home.

    • 0 avatar
      jjf

      Amdocs, another Israelli company, runs IT systems for a variety of US carriers including AT&T, T-mobile, and Telus. I wouldn’t be surprised if Amdocs is connected to Cellebrite somehow.

      Foreign companies (and maybe governments) can already access your data.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    So if you do not hand over your phone, your DL would be lost regardless of guilt??? Hope this would apply to police as well. This is a very slippery slope

    Senate Bill S6325A, named “Evan’s Law” after the 2011 distracted driving death of 19-year-old Evan Lieberman, would require that any driver involved in a crash would be required to hand over their phone to police for testing. Anyone who refuses to surrender their phone will have their license driving privileges immediately revoked, regardless of eventual guilt or innocence.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      We started sliding down that slope decades ago with DWI laws.

      • 0 avatar
        raph

        Yup brn, I recently had a coworker refuse a breathalyzer and he ended up spending a week in jail and lost his license as well as additional jail time (a month I believe) after he was pulled over and the officer smelled alcohol.

        The laughable part to his predicament is that a deer ran across the road and he hit it, damaged a headlight and made it through one county where a state police officer pulled him and he explained his story only to be pulled by a sheriff in the next county and hauled in under the same story.

        In both cases a suicidal deer and a broken headlight were the cause of his troubles and not whatever alcohol he consumed.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    The article says that handing over your phone would only be after traffic accidents, not for routine traffic stops.

    I think that may be a good thing, given how often I’ve avoided accidents with distracted drivers lately.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      A good thing would be allowing for due process. Require a warrant to pull the data from the carrier.

      The NSA utilized warrants to investigate your cell records and people still got upset. This law bypasses warrants and we’re OK with that?

  • avatar
    n_tesla

    My son had his car totaled last month after a driver coming the other direction moved into his lane and sideswiped him. Just this week I’ve had to avoid two vehicles that were coming at me in my lane. I don’t think the drivers were “adjusting the AC”. People, you could barely stay between the lines before! It is impossible to drive with your eyes off the road. We need to prosecute texting drivers with the same laws we use with drunk drivers.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      That ain’t going to happen. They’ll just make lane-keeping cameras mandatory. Not that that will be much use, given how old the US fleet is, yet all new cars are getting back-up cameras next year.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    What if I’m Facebooking, Snapchatting, Instagramming, internet foruming, or any of the zillion other communication apps kids these days use?

    • 0 avatar
      IAhawkeye

      Internet foruming?? lol. I mean I guess maybe Reddit or Tumblr.. I have no idea about Tumblr, but Reddit is probably one of the worst web to mobile sites out there(imo) so probably not..

      But that’s what I would want to know,(assuming it can even tell if I’m texting and I have an iPhone 6s so according to other comments on here it can’t) is what about other distracting apps. Personally I feel like I’m way more liable to snap someone back, tweet about my road rage towards everyone else on the road, the song I’m listening to, or whatever then actually send a text.

      Also something no one mentions, what about searching a music app on your phone for a song? I think that might actually be way more dangerous then just about anything else. It takes a long time if your like me and have a lot of music, and it’s hard to sit there if you get the feeling to listen to something to wait for the next stop or whatever to pull up what your looking for.

      • 0 avatar
        brn

        “about searching a music app on your phone for a song? I think that might actually be way more dangerous then just about anything else.”

        brn: presses button on his steering wheel
        car: “please say a command”
        brn: “play comfortably numb”
        car: “playing comfortably numb by artist pink floyd”

        Press one button and say three words. Yea, I’m being a tool. It depends on your infotainment system. People criticize Ford Sync, but it’s just that easy.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    I could be wrong, but there’s going to be a strong 4th Amendment protection against seizure of cell phones/smart phones and, more importantly, the data on them, by law enforcement, absent a showing of probable cause:

    Probable Cause to Search and Seize Evidence

    Probable cause to search for evidence or to seize evidence requires that an officer is possessed of sufficient facts and circumstances as would lead a reasonable person to believe that evidence or contraband relating to criminal activity will be found in the location to be searched. As with an arrest, if an officer cannot articulate the facts forming the basis for probable cause, the search and seizure will not hold up in court.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      Interpretation may well depend on who the ninth justice is.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      The intent of the device is to provide the probable cause that justifies the warrant.

      I’m willing to bet that they’ll use Smith v Maryland to justify it. The Smith decision ruled that the “pen register” (the record of the numbers that you called) was not protected. The argument was that the phone company was obviously aware of who you were calling, so you had already agreed to give up your privacy when you volunteered that information to the telecom. (Yes, I think that this was a lousy decision, so don’t shoot the messenger.)

      It’s the same thing here: When it ends up in the appeals court, they will rule that you have no expectation of privacy re: the **activity** of your phone. They aren’t going to pry into exactly what you said; the emphasis will be on the fact that you were doing something at time X that would have contributed to the crash/etc..

      Incidentally, the dissent in Smith came from the Court’s liberals and its swing voter Stewart. The conservatives ruled in favor of violating your privacy. So much for those “limited government” folks putting limits on government.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        They will certainly try, IMO.

        http://www.casebriefsummary.com/smith-v-maryland/

        Smith v. Maryland
        Posted on September 17, 2014  |  Constitutional Law  |  Tags:  Constitutional Law Case Briefs
        442 US 735 – 1979

        Facts: Woman was robbed; following robbery received threatening phone calls from robber. Upon learning his identity, telephone co. installed pen register at its offices to record numbers dialed from the robber’s house, at the request of the police. The police did not obtain a warrant.

        Issue: whether the installation and use of a pen register constitutes a “search” within the meaning of the 4th amendment?

        Holding: A pen register is not a search because the “petitioner voluntarily conveyed numerical information to the telephone company” and no warrant is required. He assumed risk of disclosure, it would be unreasonable for him to expect his phone records to remain provide.

        Reasoning: Since the defendant had disclosed the dialed numbers to the telephone company so they could connect his call, he did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the numbers he dialed. And if he did have an expectation of privacy, it wasn’t reasonable.

        The court said difference between disclosing the numbers to a human operator or just the automatic equipment used by the telephone company results in the same lack privacy expectations.
        The Smith decision left pen registers completely outside constitutional protection. If there was to be any privacy protection, it would have to be enacted by Congress as statutory privacy law.
        Dissents: such a list may reveal the identities of the persons and places called, revealing the most intimate of details/just because they know phone co. monitors calls internally doesn’t mean they expect this info to be made available publicly or to the gov/privacy expectations are legit w/in meaning of Katz depends not on risks an individual can be presumed to accept when imparting info to 3rd parties, but on the risks he should be forced to assume in a free society.

      • 0 avatar
        Sam Hall

        So they logic is that you created a record with the phone company when you used your phone, so … that’s a public record now? Did I miss where they stopped needing a warrant to get the same info from the phone company itself?

        Liberal or conservative, it seems the “there ought’r be a law!!” folks are firmly in charge now.

        • 0 avatar
          VCplayer

          @Sam Hall

          The logic is that the phone company is under no obligation to keep the conveyed information secret, so they can tell the police if they want to. Or the media, your neighbor, whoever—there is no telecom-customer confidentiality right.

          Now generally speaking, companies don’t like just violating privacy because the government tells them to, but they tend to fold under pressure.

          Obviously the issue needs to be addressed more thoroughly by both legislatures and courts.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        Pch101 – agree. They are looking at cell usage immediately prior to a crash. Since one’s device communicates with other systems it can be inferred that usage is public domain. All they want to know is use not the message transmitted. They already use cell phone use to extrapolate traffic flow data for example.

    • 0 avatar
      arpinum

      They can get around this using implied consent. Driving isn’t a right, only a privilege.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Implied consent probably won’t fly. Riley v. California:

        https://www.oyez.org/cases/2013/13-132

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        The act of driving is a privilege, as licensed by the state, but I don’t think that nexus could extend to and obviate the legal justification needed under the 4th Amendment, as a separate matter, to seize personal property for criminal investigatory purposes.

    • 0 avatar
      SlowMyke

      I’d imagine probable cause will become whatever driving infraction was committed plus “I saw a phone near the driver”.

      I am very much for drivers being held more accountable for their actions while driving and using their phones. I see way too many people drive down my street not actually looking up away from their phones for the entire length of time I can see them. That said, there are plenty of objections to this proposed solution and I agree this isn’t the correct path to take.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Now all we need is a betting pool for how many hours it will take for some teenager to figure out a hack that will make this application useless.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      It’s already useless against iOS versions greater than 8, or any iPhone 5S or newer, unless you’re intent on disabling security. This is the issue for the San Bernadino case.

      On Android, it’s murky, but 5.1 and better, if you use storage encryption, it’s likely secure as well.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        I would think that the handset makers would be motivated to make what is effectively a noise generator so that the measurements that are produced are so unreliable that they can’t be used to justify probable cause.

        • 0 avatar
          psarhjinian

          The issue is that said telemetry is used for a lot of other functions and can’t be degraded without compromising the device’s functionality.

          That said, there’s no reason the handset can’t have decent encryption and access control. iOS does; Android doesn’t do so well. Upping the security game helps everyone.

          The problem is mostly a legislative and procedural one: you can’t be compelled to provide a passcode, but you can (IIRC, IANAL) be compelled to unlock your device via fingerprint. You can also be coerced.

          This one reason why Apple requires a PIN unlock after boot, and why some people prefer PIN over fingerprint.

  • avatar
    qfrog

    Keep a dummy phone in the car.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      qfrog may not be a teanager, but here’s your hack, and it only took 11 minutes. We all have an old phone laying around. Just keep it in the glove box.

      • 0 avatar
        multicam

        Third option:

        “I don’t own a cell phone, officer.”

        If the accident isn’t bad enough to incapacitate you, just offer this response. What is he going to say, yes you do?

        But I like Pch101’s solution. I have a jailbroken iPhone and I’m sure some programmer would come up with something which, when plugged into the LEO’s device, would show that no activity had occurred in the past two hours.

        edit: I bring up jailbreaking because without it, nothing like this would ever make it onto an Apple device. They don’t even allow f.lux, an awesome app for nighttime reading

  • avatar
    WheelMcCoy

    Another gray area: what happens when it’s your passenger using your phone? Sometimes it could be my son calling grandpa. Other times, it could be my wife texting a friend in another car on a joint road trip.

    So if I get into an accident, I will appear guilty, or at least it will be up to the discretion of the officer.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I feel like I read somewhere that actual deaths and accidents caused by cell users was relatively low. That everyone points to distracted driver statistics as cell users. When in actuality people are distracted for a myriad of reasons, not just their phones.

    When I doing claims adjusting I’d say 80% of the time I listed someone as failing to pay due time and attention – which probably falls into distracted driving. But hardly any of those people gave me reason to suspect they were on the phone. And usually if the other party thought they were, they told me and that rarely ever happened.
    Of course, this was 7 years ago now, so my data is definitely out of date.

    • 0 avatar

      I recall the same. Pretty much we have been distracted forever but just by different things. I doubt the number of accidents changed much. I remeber drifting out of my lane a bunch of times trying to change a CD or grab that fry I dropped as a teenager.

    • 0 avatar
      VCplayer

      I’m pretty sure you’re right: if this was the epidemic that some people paint it to be then rates of road fatalities would have moved up drastically rather than down.

      I’m sure people have been killed themselves/others due to their phone, but it seems relatively rare. I think most people are just upset about lazy drivers in front of them that are obviously distracted—but that’s more annoying than dangerous.

  • avatar
    VenomV12

    As someone who has been hit in the last two years twice by people who I am sure were either texting or using their phone in some other manner, I should be all for this technology, but I am still quite leery about it. I would still much rather have phone records subpoenaed. I am not a fan of the government snooping through our stuff as it is and definitely not a foreign country being the one doing it. I am still confused why we spend so much money on the FBI, CIA, NSA and God knows who else and these people with an unlimited budget and unlimited manpower can’t crack the encryption on a cellphone themselves? Who would even admit that?

    • 0 avatar

      There’s another question why do they need this? They can already subpoena the records, and often d0 if you watch local news so why do they need to download info on the scene.

    • 0 avatar
      VCplayer

      ” I am still confused why we spend so much money on the FBI, CIA, NSA and God knows who else and these people with an unlimited budget and unlimited manpower can’t crack the encryption on a cellphone themselves? Who would even admit that?”

      The best and the brightest rarely work for the government—although those agencies probably include some very bright people. Apple has a lot more of them though, and often the better ones. Apple also has put a lot of effort into their devices and software just being as un-hackable as possible. The exploit used to unlock the phone from the terrorist attack doesn’t work on newer models at all.

      Making a big fuss about it publicly was a huge mistake though. If I’m trying to hid data from the government they basically told me how to do it. This information was all out there before, but it was mostly only tech types who knew or cared.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    One simple fix is to go back to a flip phone and stop carrying around a computer with you.

    When I retire next year, I’m thinking about doing just that, as I don’t use my smartphone for a whole lot.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      It really isn’t a solution. Heck, it makes it worse.

      Flip phones can still text, and they have no security to speak of. The NSA can’t hack an iPhone 5S, but anyone can hack a flip.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        I was thinking of accessing lots of personal info on the device, not if one was texting at the time of an incident.

        When I had flip phones, I did text and take a few photos, but the quality was so lousy that I just used it for incidentals, like if I was at a store and wanted to recall what something looked like, the price, etc. Good to have to record accident damage, too.

        • 0 avatar
          psarhjinian

          “I was thinking of accessing lots of personal info on the device, not if one was texting at the time of an incident.”

          Even then, get an iPhone 5S or newer, choose a strong PIN and use the iCloud Password Sync feature. Use a strong password that you don’t use anywhere else.

          That will secure your device against anything short of a nation-state, and even then…

  • avatar
    slavuta

    And if I had a bad crash because I used a phone, and a passenger, I would tell that passenger was using my phone. Done. This is so unrefined.

  • avatar
    lon888

    This is the reason I was pulling for Apple in the San Bernardino case. Things like this scare the hell out of me. They basically flush the bill of rights/constitution down the toilet.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    Yet another reason to drive a stick. Sorry officer, there is no way I could have possibly been using my phone as I need one hand on the wheel and the other for shifting.

    • 0 avatar
      everybodyhatesscott

      Anyone who has ever driven a stick knows this is a laughable excuse

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        Driving a stick while answering the phone is not impressive. Now, answering the phone while coordinating your foot movement with the passenger’s lever movement (said passenger is also trying to read the road atlas, mind you) while also turning the F-350 and 26′ gooseneck onto the highway is worth bragging about on the Internet.

  • avatar
    cgjeep

    So if your distracted and cause an accident what difference does it make what distracted you. Using your nav stay out of jail, talking on phone go to jail. I find the act of having a conversation with someone outside the car is the distraction whether I’m using Bluetooth or not. Hell I can hold a phone and drive all day long. Laws are getting ridicules. Killing someone is bad. Usually you kill someone because you don’t like them. Now we judge the reason you don’t like them (color, religion, gay or straight) and if that ‘s why it is considered worse.

  • avatar
    countymountie

    And while most will blame the cops for using the tool and carrying out the process, the legislators who empower them by statute will get a pass. Best to stop this madness at the source.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    It’s another good reason to have the extra “Saul Goodman” throwaway flippy phone. I’ve always had one for driving and most usage since I don’t have to look at it to answer, end a call, or turn on the speaker feature. One-hand-operation is great when up a ladder, squeezed under a car, etc. And I don’t care when one gets damaged/lost/whatever. The iphone stays nearby or in my shirt pocket. If there’s and incident, what “flippy phone”???


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Vulpine: “And small cars just don’t make sense for most places in the United States. The operating cost between...
  • JDG1980: The only reason diesel passenger cars were so popular for so long in Europe was that the laws were set up to...
  • akear: Are you aware that both the CTS and ATS have won North American car of the year in the past.
  • akear: Selling 1k a month is horrible. That is only 12,000 car a year!!!!
  • akear: The W-body Impala was the last GM car to break the 300,000 sales barrier. At the end of their production run...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff