NY Studies ‘Textalyzer’ to Police Phone Use by Drivers

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Police in New York state may soon have a high-tech way of catching texting drivers: a device known as a textalyzer that allows an officer to quickly check if a cellphone had been in use before a crash, reports the Associated Press. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has directed the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee to examine the technology and the questions about privacy and civil liberties its use would raise. The device is called the textalyzer because of its similarity to the Breathalyzer, used to identify drunken drivers. Officers can plug the device into a phone, and it will indicate whether a motorist was texting, emailing, surfing the web or otherwise using the device before a serious crash.

The technology is still months away from being ready, according to Cellebrite, the Israel-based tech company developing the device. Supporters say the officer would not be able to access personal information on the phone. But civil liberties advocates have questioned whether the device would violate personal privacy, noting that police can already obtain search warrants for phones. Rainey Reitman of the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation called the device “incredibly problematic.” She said, “I am extremely nervous about handing a cellphone to a law enforcement officer and allowing them in any way to forensically analyze it,” she said.

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