Police May Have a New Tool to Stop Drivers Who Text – But Are We Opening the Door to Further Intrusion Into Our Digital Lives?

Texting-related accidents are an epidemic in this country. Texting and driving causes 1.3 million crashes per year. Read facts.  In 2011, 23% of all car crashes involved cell phones.  Despite numerous laws prohibiting this dangerous habit, sadly the number of texting drivers has continued to increase.

What are we to do?  Technology to the rescue!  According to a recent New York Times article, police officers may soon be equipped with a new device that would be the digital equivalent of the Breathalyzer — a roadside test called the Textalyzer.  Proposed legislation in New York would empower police officers pulling up to a crash scene to legally allow them immediate access to a driver’s smart phone. Police then could utilize Textalyzers to tap into its operating system.  The Textalyzer could then determine whether the driver had used the phone at the time of the crash.

Of course, this raises privacy concerns.  Do we really want to give police the authority to tap into our smart phone operating systems?  “It really invites police to seize phones without justification or warrant,” according to Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

What safeguards could protect us from Big Brother acquiring total access to our digital lives on our phones?  How can we both protect our privacy and also stop the epidemic of texting while driving?   Laws can restrict the Textalyzer to only extract the meta date needed to determine what was being done before an accident (like typing and sending a text, accessing apps, scrolling a webpage, etc.) and not allowing access to the actual content of messages, email, social media or apps.   However, the proposed legislation in New York does not include any such restrictions.   According to former New York prosecutor Katie Phang, “The proposed bill tracks the language from New York’s current law on distracted talking, texting and driving.  It includes checking out the internet, texting, looking at photos, talking on the phone, so anything you just said would actually implicate you in this law.” http://www.foxbusiness.com/features/2016/04/13/proposed-textalyzer-law-in-new-york-threat-to-your-privacy.html

What do think?  How much access would you want police to have to your smart phone in the interests of stopping the texting while driving epidemic?

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