The textalyzer: valuable deterrent or invasion of privacy?

You undoubtedly know what a Breathalyzer is – an electronic device that law-enforcement agencies use to measure blood-alcohol content.

But have you heard about the textalyzer? It’s a new technology that determines how and when a person has been using his or her smartphone. A company called Cellebrite is developing the technology.

The textalyzer is a tablet-sized device that plugs in to your phone. The textalyzer’s developers say it can reveal how a person was using his or her phone, including taps, swipes and the use of apps. The textalyzer is a tool that law enforcement could use to discover if drivers have been texting while driving.

In July, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee to research the textalyzer and come back with recommendations for its use. Cuomo also asked the committee to examine any privacy issues that the device could raise.

Legislation is in progress

Cuomo’s request isn’t the first government action that’s been taken in New York regarding the textalyzer.

In 2016, a bill was introduced in the New York legislature that would force drivers involved in accidents to have their phones tested by a textalyzer. The testing would determine if drivers were using their phones before a crash.

The bill has been called “Evan’s Law,” in memory of Evan Lieberman, a 19-year-old who was killed in New York by a distracted driver. The bill has remained in committee, according to the New York State Senate’s website.

Is the textalyzer a good thing?  

The textalyzer is creating debate: is the device an invaluable deterrent, an invasion of privacy or both?

Privacy advocates, like the American Civil Liberties Union, argue that police should need a warrant to test a phone; they say there’s no guarantee that police could not extract any or all the information on your phone.

What happens next?

With the governor’s committee studying the textalyzer, it seems likely that a positive recommendation could help “Evan’s Law” make progress toward becoming a real law.

Lawmakers in New Jersey, Tennessee and Chicago also are trying to make it legal for police to use the textalyzer. Texting and driving is banned in every state, except for Arizona and Montana. There’s a partial ban in Missouri.

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