Textalyzer bill should be set aside for now

There were legitimate questions about the so-called Textalyzer device when it was making news a couple of years ago.

Why have so few of them been answered?

The Textalyzer is a device that would scan a driver’s cellphone if they were in a car accident and see if the person responsible was using their phone prior to the collision. Legislation being discussed in 2017 and again this year in relation to a pilot program in Westchester County say the scanning device would be used without extracting the content of any text messages sent by the driver.

No one actually knows if the device actually works since one hasn’t actually been built yet. The manufacturer is waiting to see if the state will allow the device’s use before building even a test model. Because the Textalyzer doesn’t actually exist, no one knows if it would stop at the simple time-stamp data that would allegedly prove if someone involved in an accident was using their cellphone. Apps, including the seemingly ubiquotous Alexa from Amazon, have been shown to either have access to data users didn’t expect could be accessed or, in the case of Alexa, keep audio recordings of children’s voices far longer than necessary. There should be proof that the Textalyzer wouldn’t behave similarly.

In addition to that nuts-and-bolts concern, a bigger question hangs over the Textalyzer. What happened to the Fourth Amendment’s protection of citizens from unwarranted searches and seizures? Accessing cellphone data requires a warrant from a judge, but use of the Textalyzer wouldn’t work that way under the law as it has been discussed.

There are good intentions behind the Textalyzer. People shouldn’t be using their cellphones while driving. No matter how well meaning the Textalyzer legislation is, there are serious concerns about how using the Textalyzer doesn’t violate a driver’s constitutional rights.

The pilot program being discussed in the state Legislature should be set aside until the valid questions about the Textalyzer can be answered.