NY Bill Would Let Cops Use 'Breathalyzer for Texting'

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You don't have to look far to find news of car accidents and deaths caused by drivers who were texting behind the wheel. But how can you be sure that distracted messaging is to blame? Two New York state lawmakers have introduced legislation that would allow police to use technology that is being referred to as a breathalyzer for texting.

If passed, the law would require drivers involved in a crash to submit their phone to roadside testing via a so-called "Textalyzer." Details are scant, but the technology involved is under development at Israeli mobile forensics firm Cellebrite (yes, the same company thought to have helped the FBI unlock the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone).

Whatever Cellebrite develops, it will only tell police if the phone was in use prior to an accident; it won't give them access to personal details, the company says. "Respecting drivers' personal privacy [is] important, and we are taking meticulous steps to not violate those rights," says Ben Lieberman, co-founder of Distracted Operators Risk Casualties (DORCs).

Liebeman's 19-year-old son Evan died in a 2011 collision caused by a distracted driver, prompting him to team up with state Sen. Terrence Murphy (R-Westchester) and Assembly Assistant Speaker Felix Ortiz (D-Kings) on their legislation, known as "Evan's Law."

Cellebrite did not offer any further details about what it's developing, except to say that its technology has been in use by law enforcement "for years." That includes its UFED FIELD product line, which lets police "conduct a forensically sound, logical extraction of device texts, call logs, and emails." It does not appear the NY bill would allow cops to dig that deep into a driver's phone, though.

"Empowering our law enforcement with technology…will allow enforcement of these laws after an accident while still protecting essential privacy rights," the legislation said.

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