Previously, we began discussing the widespread problem of texting and driving, and an emerging technology that could help address the issue. The Textalyzer, as we noted, would allow law enforcement officers to determine whether a motorist had been involved in texting while driving prior to a motor vehicle accident or a moving violation.
To authorities, the technology holds a lot of promise in terms of improving highway safety, so much so that Governor Cuomo recently ordered the Traffic Safety Committee to study the issue and report on the potential effectiveness of the technology and how it may be used in the state of New York.
Opponents of the technology, however, raise privacy concerns about giving law enforcement the ability to scan drivers’ phones. Ordinarily, policy officers must have a search warrant to search a criminal suspect’s cell phone. There are certain exceptions to this rule, such as when there are “exigent circumstances,” when the suspect consents to the search, or when the suspect has been arrested on suspicion of another crime.
It isn’t clear yet whether the ability to use a textalyzer device on a driver’s cell phone would constitute a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. If so, the general warrant requirement would apply, absent exceptional circumstances. In either case, there could very well be room for abuse of the technology.
The review of the technology will reportedly examine the arguments of both supporters and opponents of the technology. It’s hard to imagine, however, that the committee will be completely neutral examining the issue, given the state’s interest in improving highway safety. As we all know, privacy is too often set aside in the interest of public safety.
In our next post, we’ll continue looking at the issue of privacy, particularly as it can come up in drunken driving cases.
Source: CBS News, “New York to study use of device known as "textalyzer" to bust drivers,” July 26, 2017.