Privacy, safety advocates clash over 'Textalyzer' test for distracted drivers
TORONTO -- New technology being considered for Canadian police to use to catch distracted drivers is raising concerns among privacy advocates over potential risks to personal data.
The device, known as a ‘Textalyzer,’ would allow police to do roadside scans on suspected distracted driver’s cellphones, to reveal to reveal if they were using the devices while driving.
The National Safety Council says that 26 per cent of crashes in Canada involve a phone and more than 50 per cent of drivers are still using a phone while they’re driving.
But privacy advocates say that the device could provide police with access to private data that they do not have the right to see without a court order.
“I understand we want to stop texting while driving, there’s no question of that,” said former Privacy Commissioner for the Province of Ontario Ann Cavoukian on CTV’s News Channel Monday. “My concern is this: if the police are accessing your cellphone, could they get access to any other information... all of the sensitive data?”
However, road safety advocate Patrick Brown of the Coalition for Vulnerable Road User Laws believes that concerns about privacy are a “red herring.”
“When the device is used… it only downloads that data of touches and swipes, it doesn’t download any content on the phone,” Brown said on CTV’s Your Morning Wednesday.
“It only downloads a timestamp of the touch or swipe. So in relation to a privacy issue, yes it does require you to allow police to attach this device to your phone – but I think that’s a reasonable expectation and certainly not an unreasonable intrusion into someone’s privacy,” he said.
“Right now, we’re in a crisis,” Brown said. “At this point in time, the police have reported that the fatality rate for people using mobile devices causing crashes is exceeding the [rate] of drunk drivers killing people.”
Cavoukian maintains that a cell phone is no longer “just a phone,” but a “gateway” that “tracks an enormous amount of information,” whether it be “financial records… health data or your communications with various people.”
“I want some assurance that the police will not be able to gain access to all this other wealth of information which they are not authorized to access,” Cavoukian said, adding that those concerns need to be sorted out before the technology is implemented.
Cavoukian suggests a “third–party audit” of the Textalyzer to determine whether there is a possibility of the police having access to information beyond whether the driver was texting while driving.
The Textalyzer is a product from Israeli digital forensics company Cellebrite – whose mobile forensics branch has worked with more than 6,000 law enforcement bodies, according to their website.
“This is a company that breaks into all kinds of technologies,” Cavoukian said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if the police would be able to have access to all this other information they don’t have the right to have access to.”