What is “Textalyzer”?
Backed by the Israeli Firm, Cellebrite, which assists FBI agents with decrypting phones, including the terrorist’s iPhone from the recent San Bernardino attack, the Textalyzer device would allow police officers at a crash scene to see if the perpetrator had been texting. In lieu of New York’s texting and driving laws, the aim of Textalyzer is to provide law enforcement with quick answers regarding the involvement of a cellphone in the crash.
History of Textalyzer
In 2011, Ben Lieberman lost his 19-year-old son, Evan Lieberman, in a crash when distracted driver Michael Fiddle hit Evan in a head-on collision. After spending 31 days in a trauma unit, Lieberman’s son died. The state police never charged Fiddle with a crime, but Lieberman later sued Fiddle, and it was revealed that Fiddle had used his phone during that drive. It is unclear if Fiddle had been texting at the time of the crash.
After losing Evan, Lieberman campaigned against texting drivers. His efforts helped increase the punishment for those caught texting while driving In New York. Now Lieberman is pushing to establish “Evan’s Law,” a bill that would allow the police to use the so-called Textalyzer device in New York.
How would the Textalyzer device work?
This electronic scanning device would allow police to do a field-test at the scene to see if the drivers texted during a car related incident. The device would not pull any information from the phone–messages, contacts, photos, etc.–but would allow the officer to know when texts were sent or the phone was otherwise in use.
Like a breathalyzer, the person would be asked to hand over their cell phone so the officer could plug the textalyzer into it. If the driver refused, as Evan’s Law is currently written, he or she could lose their license.
Textalyzer’s Legal Status
The New York Senate voted 16-to-2 in favor of Evan’s Law, which now must face all of New York’s legislature before reaching Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk, where it can receive final approval.
Fourth Amendment Violation?
Evan’s Law may have trouble getting past the Supreme Court, which, in 2014, ruled that police officers need a warrant to search cell phones. This would make Evan’s Law possibly unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment, which protects a citizen’s right to privacy.
Others argue that the police do not need the Textalyzer, since phone records can already be made available through warrants from phone carriers.