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Politics FLX: ‘Textalyzer’ raises questions about privacy

When it comes to distracted driving too many lives have been lost.According to the U.S. Government’s statistics on distracted driving, over 431,000 were injured in 2014 in a motor vehicle accident caused by distracted driving. More concerning, at least 3,179 people were killed in such accidents.States like New York have moved to treating distracted driving like driving while intoxicated. A study sponsored by New York even found that texting while driving creates the same level of impairment as driving while intoxicated with a BAC of .08 percent. That is why a proposed bill by Senator Terrence Murphy (R-40) has so much appeal. Senate Bill S6325A, or Evan’s Law, will allow law enforcement to execute field testing on a mobile device to determine whether it was used at the time of an accident or collision. An Israeli tech company called Cellebrite, created what they call first-of-its-kind technology that will allow data extraction from mobile devices, without granting access to personal, private information. The “textalyzer” as it’s called, would allow law enforcement to analyze a device, without actually infringing on anyone’s privacy.Evan’s Law gets its name from the group Distracted Operators Risk Casualties. The co-founder of the group, Ben Lieberman, lost his son, Evan, in a distracted driving accident in 2011. Evan Lieberman was just 19-years-old at the time.Implementation of a law like this offers a lot of good. It could drastically reduce the number of distracted drivers. It could place an increased accountability on those who choose to text and drive, or use a mobile device while driving.Opponents of the legislation ask what safeguards will be in place to ensure that the access is not abused. They also wonder how the technology will be able to decipher from one piece of information on a device to another. Even though the creators argue that it will not infringe on privacy – turning a smart device over in today’s world – typically requires a legal process, which will be completely bypassed if this bill is signed into law.It’s unclear how quickly this bill will move through the legislative process. Currently, it is in committee, awaiting to go to the Senate and Assembly. A vote on this bill is unlikely in the immediate. However, this bill is one of the first to really beg questions about privacy, and how it is valued.If the technology works as promised, few people would likely take issue with the bill. Given the number of injuries and deaths that are reported each year due to distracted driving, this would certainly address some of the concerns associated with policing it. That said, it also opens up the state, and practically every law enforcement agency in the state up to litigation – should it be found that any part of this technology goes beyond what it advertises, or grants access (intentionally or incidentally) to something that they otherwise would not have permission under the law to access. Everyone in New York needs to know more about this bill, as well as the technology employed inside of it – before making any rash decisions about it becoming law.FLX Politics is a weekly feature, which takes a critical look at policy in the Finger Lakes. He is the Lead News Editor at FingerLakes1.com and can be reached at josh@fingerlakes1.com.

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