'Textalyzer' Wants to Be a Breathalyzer For Your Cellphone

Illustration for article titled 'Textalyzer' Wants to Be a Breathalyzer For Your Cellphone

Distracted driving is a hazard up there with drinking and driving, but with a problem for cops: Snapchat scores can’t be determined by smelling someone’s breath. A solution proposed in draft New York legislation would solve that, using a roadside phone analyzer.

The bill “provides for the field testing for use of mobile telephones and portable electronic devices while driving after an accident or collision.” After being involved in an accident, a driver would have to submit their phone for roadside testing, or face an automatic suspension of their license.

That testing would be done anonymously, using a device that would only look at metadata. The actual content of a message, picture, or game would not be revealed.


It’s unclear exactly how the technology would work, given the difficulty police currently have with unlocking cellphones. Some usage data can be extracted from cloud backups, but it’s almost impossible to imagine a solution that would work consistently with every cellphone, running every version of software.

Israeli firm Cellebrite, which is rumored to have had some part in unlocking the San Bernardino iPhone, already has a device that claims to be able to pull call logs and contacts from devices in the field. The firm also told Ars Technica that it “looks forward to supporting DORCs and law enforcement–both in New York and nationally to curb distracted driving.”

Assuming the technology works—which is a big assumption—the proposed bill actually sounds good. As it currently stands, a driver under suspicion of distracted driving will be under extreme pressure to unlock their phone to prove their innocence, giving officers full access to everything on a handset. A new system that took the investigative duties away from the officer and into the hands of an unbiased machine sounds much better.

[Ars Technica]


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I understand that distracted driving is a serious thing - hell, its against the law where I live.

But I have a hard time taking a law serious when the people that are supposed to be enforcing the law are breaking it.

I see more police driving while looking at their phones, playing with it at red lights, and in general, driving while distracted. And that’s ignoring them fidling with their radios, messing around with the dash-mounted laptops, or eating/drinking behind the wheel.

The only difference between him and me is that nobody around me cares that I glanced at my phone for a second while everyone makes sure there is 20+ meters around him at all times.

Police should lead by example, not “Do as I say, not as I do”.