A little more than a year ago I first wrote about the “Textalyzer,” a device police in many states want to be able to use to perform digital roadside searches of your phone’s recent activity. In the time since, this anti-privacy idea just won’t die.

NBC News recently produced a segment showing the device in action, and Reason’s Scott Shackford reports state lawmakers in New York are actively considering a bill that would allow police to use the Textalyzer on people’s phones if they’re involved in a crash.

The intentions here may be good, but the logic is fuzzy, and the risk of abuse is serious.

RELATED: The TSA has a new plan to search our books before we board planes

Supporters say the Textalyzer is necessary to determine culpability in an accident: Did you crash because you were texting or using Facebook behind the wheel?

But police can already follow the Constitution and get a warrant to search drivers’ phones when they believe it’s necessary. Put the Textalyzer in use and suddenly cops have the “power to take and search our phones after almost every fender-bender,” explains Rashida Richardson, an attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“This is a concern because our phones have some of our most personal and private information,” she adds, “so we’re certain that if this law is enforced as it is proposed, it will not only violate people’s privacy rights, but also civil liberties.”

The idea of letting cops digitally rifle through your phone just won’t die Intel Free Press/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons
Bonnie Kristian is a columnist at Rare, weekend editor at The Week, and a fellow at Defense Priorities. You can find more of her work at or follow her on Twitter @bonniekristian
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