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New York law could allow roadside 'textalyzer' checks for distracted driving

Drivers in New York might soon be subject to on-the-spot analysis of their mobile phones to determine whether they were distracted by their devices in the run-up to accidents, if a proposed law passes the state legislature.

The bill would give police officers the authority to use so-called "textalyzers" to determine whether a phone was being used in the moments before an accident occurred. As noted by Ars Technica, those who refuse to consent to the search would face immediate suspension of their driving license.

One company developing such a textalyzer, Cellebrite — the same firm that helped the FBI crack the San Bernardino iPhone — says that their device would not gather personal data like contacts or photos in order to comply with the fourth amendment. Indeed, such a protection is included in the text of the bill:

No such electronic scan shall include the content or origin of any communication, game conducted, image or electronic data viewed on a mobile telephone or a portable electronic device.

Given that, it isn't clear exactly how the devices would determine if a phone was in use. One method may be to analyze the contents of the SIM card, though that would not shed light on how the device was used; that is, whether the driver was looking at it or using it through a hands-free system.

To make those determinations, investigators would need an additional warrant for a device search.