Textalyzer

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Perhaps you can relate: driving to work this morning on the highway a car in the lane next to me started to gradually slow down and then it was swerving a bit.  As I sped past, I saw the driver looking down at his phone, no doubt texting.  Once I reached my exit, the off ramp intersection light was red.  But when it turned green, the car at the head of the line did not move until … it was red again.  No doubt, more texting.

 

While obstruction of a smooth commute is an annoyance, the potential for car accident injury and death is real and frightening.  In 2016, there were 10,000 deaths and 330,000 injuries in the U.S. associated with texting while driving.  One out of four accidents is related to texting.

 

There is a new device called a Textalyzer (so named after the breathalyzer) that can be used to determine whether or not a phone was in use, and how it was in use, during a given time frame.  The device shows if the user was in hands-on or hands-free mode, and what on the phone was being tapped or clicked.  Similar to a breathalyzer, this new devise (looks like an i-pad) would be used by law enforcement after an accident or event to determine if a driver had been on their phone.  It is illegal in 47 states and DC to text while driving.  Arizona, Missouri and Montana do not at this time have full laws against texting while driving.

 

The device does not reveal data or phone content but rather only shows if you texted, which apps you used and when.  Here is a video from NBC news that shows how it works, in a nutshell.

 

Although the textalyzer is only used after the fact, the goal obviously is that drivers might be deterred from texting, etc., for fear of being indisputably caught.  The idea is that if a driver does not submit to the test, they risk having their license revoked and/or receive a fine.

 

Similar to use of steganography described in last week’s blog, privacy concerns around the use of technology are being raised with law enforcement use of this phone reading device.  The ACLU is against use of such devices, stating “Distracted driving is a serious concern, and that’s why we already have laws that allow police to access phones and phone records when they need to. But this bill gives police power to take and search peoples’ phones — which contain our most personal, private information — at every fender bender. We don’t yet know if Textalyzers can even detect distracted driving. But we are certain that enforcing this proposed law would violate people’s privacy and could potentially impute guilt for innocent activities.”

 

As an aside, when the Apple vs FBI controversy over gaining access to the smart phone of San Bernardino terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook was simmering, the Textalyzer manufacturer Cellebrite’s name came up although it was later determined that hackers were employed to break in to that phone.  In any event, as a prosecutorial tool, access to smart phone data can make or break a case.

 

One supposes that some people would prefer no one even know which phone apps they might be using … absent the details of that use.  In any event, the war between technology and privacy continues to be waged.

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