The Chicago Tribune reported this week that two Chicago Aldermen are interested in new traffic technology called a Textalyzer, a device developed by Israeli company Cellebrite — which can access a phone’s operating system to check whether it was being used to text, email or perform other functions. Its name is a play on the Breathalyzer, which can help determine whether a driver is legally drunk.
Ald. Ed Burke, 14th, and Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th, on Wednesday introduced a resolution calling on the Police Department to appear before a City Council committee “to address the use of emerging technology, such as a Textalyzer, in enforcing the city’s existing traffic laws or the investigation of vehicle accidents.”
I have written on the dangers of texting and driving on this site ad nauseum through the years, as I believe it has been proven that distracted driving is an epidemic in this country. Far too many people text and drive and it is causing serious traffic accidents and sometimes traffic fatalities. My problem with this proposal is that it calls into question whether this type of technology invades on peoples 4th amendment right to privacy. Specifically, the constitutional right against illegal search and seizures. Many people do not realize that when stopped by policy they do not have to submit to a breathalyzer or other sobriety tests. Further, people have the right refuse an officer’s request to search their vehicles. Although, it must be noted that if an officer believes there is probable cause for a search they can go ahead and do so (though anything found in such a search could be subject to the Court’s scrutiny as to whether the search was legal). The point here is whether police should have the right to seize a drivers phone and perform a “Textalyzer” analysis to determine if the driver had been using the phone at the time of the crash? I don’t believe so. It could be argued that the phone could be seized if there is overwhelming evidence that the phone was being used prior to the stop (i.e. the officer saw the driver typing into the phone while driving or the phone was in the drivers lap following a car accident).
These are all questions that need to be answered prior to the city moving forward and handing over this technology to police officers. I do not believe the City Council should rubber stamp this technology without a careful determination of the constitutional implications. Further, there is the question of whether this type of technology would be a deterrent for drivers to use their phones while behind the wheel.