Distracted driving is a hazard up there with drinking and driving, but presents a problem for cops: Snapchat scores can’t be determined by smelling someone’s breath. A solution proposed in draft New York legislation would solve that, using a roadside phone analyser. The bill “provides for the field testing for use of mobile telephones and portable electronic devices while driving after an accident or collision”. After being involved in an accident, a driver would have to submit their phone for roadside testing, or face an automatic suspension of their licence.
That testing would be done anonymously, using a device that would only look at metadata. The actual content of a message, picture or game would not be revealed.
It’s unclear exactly how the technology would work, given the difficulty police currently have with unlocking mobile phones. Some usage data can be extracted from cloud backups, but it’s almost impossible to imagine a solution that would work consistently with every mobile phone, running every version of software.
Israeli firm Cellebrite, which is rumoured to have had some part in unlocking the San Bernardino iPhone, already has a device that claims to be able to pull call logs and contacts from devices in the field. The firm also told Ars Technica that it “looks forward to supporting DORCs and law enforcement — both in New York and nationally to curb distracted driving”.
Assuming the technology works — which is a big assumption — the proposed bill actually sounds good. As it currently stands, a driver under suspicion of distracted driving will be under extreme pressure to unlock their phone to prove their innocence, giving officers full access to everything on a handset. A new system that took the investigative duties away from the officer and into the hands of an unbiased machine sounds much better.