Textalyzer would let police know if car crashes were caused by cell phone use

Mar 19, 2019, 3:41 PM
The Textalyzer is a new tool that would let law enforcement know if you were texting before getting in a crash -- but is it even legal? (Photo: Adobe Stock / Deseret News)
(Photo: Adobe Stock / Deseret News)

A new piece of law enforcement technology called the Textalyzer would let police officers know whether drivers were using their cell phones in the seconds leading up to a crash.

It’s a tablet about the size of an iPad that police officers can plug into your cell phone to get a record of which programs you’ve used and when, and four states — Nevada, New York, New Jersey, and Tennessee — are all considering adding them to their police forces.

But before anyone uses the Textalyzer, its developers are going to have to overcome a major question: does this technology even constitutional?

The Textalyzer and the 4th Amendment


The Textalyzer may face constitutional problems if it is used. (Photo: Adobe Stock / Deseret News)

There’s a reason police can’t just break into your house and rustle through your things. It’s the 4th Amendment, and it guarantees your right not to be subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures of anything you own – including your cell phone.

The Textalyzer, critics say, might not pass that test. Their plan is to have police officers plug their machines into people’s cell phones as soon as they respond to the scene of a crash, without waiting for a warrant, and nobody can entirely agree whether that’s allowed.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is pretty sure it isn’t. In a scathing report on the machine, they wrote that the Texalyzer “flies in the face” of the Supreme Courts’ rulings that police officers need warrants before searching people’s phones.

And Utah Attorney Greg Skordas thinks they might be right. Speaking to KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic earlier today, he said that he thinks it’ll be pretty hard for any state that brings in the Textalyzer to get past the courts.

“I applaud these states that are trying to do this, because, for public safety reasons, it’s very important,” Skordas told Dave & Dujanovic, “but I think it’s going to be very hard constitutionally to justify accessing somebody’s cell phone without a warrant.”

Supporters of the Textalyzer, however, say that it’s necessary because it provides information they can’t otherwise obtain. Currently, the police can get a warrant to check your phone records to see if you were calling or texting during a crash, but they don’t have any simple way of knowing if you were looking at Facebook or messaging people on WhatsApp.

Responding to privacy concerns, Cellebrite, the company behind the Textalyzer, has insisted that their equipment will only tell officers which programs you used and when without exposing the content of your messages.

That might be enough to give them a chance, Skordas says. In the end, though, it seems likely that this is a debate that will have to be solved in a courtroom.

“States are sort of testing the waters, saying: ‘Well, let’s do this Textalyzer’ or ‘let’s pass a law that says you can’t text and drive at all,'” Skordas says. “It’s something that we’re going to have to test.”

More to the story

You can hear everything Greg Skordas had to say about Textalyzer and whether it will be allowed on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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Textalyzer would let police know if car crashes were caused by cell phone use