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NYPD to ‘partly hack’ phones to see if drivers were texting before a crash

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Image credit: Cellebrite
Image credit: Cellebrite


A new bill being proposed in New York could require drivers to submit their phone to roadside testing. We’ve all heard about the Breathalyzer– to measure a driver’s blood alcohol level. Well, the “textalyzer” would allow police to plug smartphones into a device after an accident – to determine if the driver was unlawfully driving while distracted.

An Israeli firm –that supposedly helped the FBI crack the iPhone used in the San Bernardino terrorist plot– is developing this roadside technology.

Cellebrite already has roadside devices to “scrape the contents of a phone,” so this technology would be more of a partial hack, a less intrusive version — arstechnica.com reports.

2014 Cellebrite customer predictions survey
2014 Cellebrite customer predictions survey

This device would read certain data, but a person’s conversations, contacts, numbers, photos and app data would reportedly remain private. That way, the individual’s Fourth Amendment right to privacy will not be violated.

A group called “DORCS” or Distracted Operators Risk Casualties, lobbied intensely for this legislation – which is now before a NY Senate Transportation Committee. The proposed law has been dubbed “Evan’s Law” in memory of 19-year-old Evan Lieberman, who was killed in a car crash in 2011. The cause of the accident was determined after Evan’s parents subpoenaed the cell phone records of the driver.

According to the CDC, nine people die each day in the US and more than 1,100 are injured because of distracted driving accidents.

If the law passes, Cellebrite would have to bid on the project with other tech firms. The company has been a leader in the “adoption of field mobile forensics solutions by law enforcement for years.”

The new law would amend the motor-vehicle driving law to make it so that drivers give “implied consent for determining whether the operator of a motor vehicle was using a mobile telephone or portable electronic device at or near the time of the accident or collision, which provides the grounds for such testing.”

If a driver refuses to submit to a “textalyzer,” their license could be suspended and later revoked.

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