The state of Nevada is considering a bill that would allow police to use technology that can track whether individuals involved in car crashes were using their phones in the moments before the crash. But privacy advocates are arguing that the controversial technology is unconstitutional.
Police in Nevada could soon force you to allow them to scan your phone for activity after you are involved in a car crash—and while some claim it is meant to cut down on distracted driving, others claim it is a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment. The measure would allow police officers at the scene of a car crash to force citizens to use a device called a “Textalyzer” on their phones.
Much like a breathalyzer, the device would be used to check for activity on the phone in the moments leading up to the crash. Nevada’s current handheld cellphone ban prohibits drivers from talking, texting or even reading messages on the road.
The use of the “Textalyzer” would be mandatory, and the proposed measure states that if the person refuses the request of an officer to use the investigative technology device on the handheld wireless communications device, the officer can seize the person’s driver’s license, and that license will be suspended for the next 90 days.
Supporters of the legislation claim it would help officers to be certain that drivers were using their phones before the crash. However, the questions remain of whether the technology is accurate, and just how much personal information it collects from the phones it is analyzing.
The company behind the device, Cellebrite, is based in Israel, and it claims the technology will not be able to store personal content. The device has yet to be used in the field, and although there is still a lot that is not known about the “Textalyzer,” privacy advocates argue that because it would be forcibly used at the scene of crash—without a warrant—it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Similar legislation has been proposed in New Jersey, Tennessee, and New York, where the New York Civil Liberties Union argued that “the bill gives police power to take and search peoples’ phones—which contain our most personal, private information—at every fender bender. Yet it still is not known if Textalyzers can successfully detect distracted driving.”
As states look for new ways to combat distracted driving, there is concern that this legislation in Nevada will set a dangerous precedent that will be used as a blueprint for similar laws across the country.