'Can I Have Your License, Registration and Phone, Please'

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

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.)

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Countymountie Countymountie on Apr 12, 2016

    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.

  • DenverMike DenverMike on Apr 12, 2016

    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"???

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  • Charles The UAW makes me the opposite of patriotic
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  • El scotto So now would be a good time to buy an EV as a commuter car?