Textalyzer Has Privacy Advocates Concerned, Safety Advocates Celebrating

There’s disturbing news for anyone who relies on a vehicle to get around: the National Safety Council has reported that motor vehicle deaths increased by 8% in 2015 over the previous year, marking the largest single-year increase in 50 years.

“Over the last year at the state level, the NSC estimates Oregon (27%), Georgia (22%), Florida (18%), and South Carolina (16%) all experienced increases in fatalities, while only 13 states showed improvement.”

One of the chief culprits that experts blame for the traffic deaths is distracted driving, which encompasses everything from texting, updating social media, and even attempting to post on Snapchat while driving, as in the case of one fatality involving the filter that displays the miles-per-hour the person was traveling when the image was taken. Several states have already enacted legislation that bans certain behaviors while driving in order to combat this epidemic.

Law enforcement may have a new weapon in the fight against distracted driving, but it has privacy experts taking a somewhat cautious stance. Called a Textalyzer after the word “breathalyzer” and already introduced a bill before the New York state legislature, it’s a device that allows officers to scan drivers’ phones to see if they were using their phones prior to a crash.

The issue of law enforcement interacting with citizens’ phones has already been a hotly contested topic, one that was heard by the Supreme Court back in 2014. The Court ruled that citizens’ smartphones contain just as much personal information, photos, and correspondence as their homes, and therefore require a warrant before they can be searched. The Textalyzer, however, doesn’t look at the contents of the activity but instead is only supposed to report whether the phone was being used in violation of the law.

There’s another privacy consideration, though, which is to be aware of the potential for hacking. As with any new technology, the full scope of the potential for identity theft has to be considered before it can be unleashed in the public sector. The Internet of Things has already taught us that the “unknowns” behind new technology can actually have serious ramifications for privacy and cybercrime.

Anyone who believes their identity has been stolen or their personal data has been compromised is invited to connect with the ITRC through our toll-free call center at (888) 400-5530, or on-the-go with the new IDTheftHelp app for iOS and Android.

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