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New law is meant to determine if you were talking/texting while driving, but represents a gross invasion of privacy

Expect this one to light up the appeals court if it's passed: New Jersey's state senate is considering a bill (No. 2783) that would allow a police officer to seize your cell phone and check your messages and phone calls to see if you were talking or texting when the accident occurred.

Back in 2007, New Jersey became one of the first states to ban texting while driving (P.L. 2007, c.198 [PDF]).  It currently is also working on a bill (No. 69 R1) that would increase the penalties of texting while driving by a couple hundred dollars, plus at three points to a drivers license for every offense after the second one.

But those efforts pale in comparison to the latest effort -- the cell phone seizure act – that grants bold new powers to the police.  Its synopsis unequivocally states:

Permits police officer to confiscate cell phones under certain circumstances; increases penalties for texting while driving.

Jim Hopzafel
Sen. Jim Hopzapfel (R-Ocean) sponsored the seizure bill. [Image Source: Facebook]

The provisions of exactly when an officer can seize your phone are pretty ambiguous.  The bill states a phone may be seized:

[If] the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the operator involved in the accident was operating a hand-held wireless telephone while driving a motor vehicle [prior to the accident.]

State Sen. James Holzapfel (R-Ocean) sponsored the bill.  He tells, "Think about it: The chances of the cop witnessing the accident are slim to none."

Local police are already salivating at their new potential powers.  Comments Sgt. Ken Drost, who works in South Brunswick and is president of the Middlesex County Traffic Officers Association, "It’s one of the questions you ask them: ‘Were you on your cell phone at the time of the crash?’ And, of course, they say ‘no.'  Without the phone you really can’t tell."

Prepare to have your phone seized. [Image Source: Getty Images]

But the possibility of new powers of seizure for police is already drawing the ire of many groups.  

Steve Carrellas, New Jersey representative of the National Motorists Association, says that even with the Orwellian seizure you won't be able to really "tell" if the phone caused the crash.  He remarks, "Here’s the bottom line: If you went all through what the bill is supposedly allowing, you still can’t determine if the person with the phone actually had a distraction that contributed to a crash."

American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey suggests its crafting a "constitutional challenge" should the bill be enacted.  Local counsel Alexander Shalom comments, "This bill is problematic because it infringes on the privacy rights of citizens.  Our state and federal constitutions generally require probable cause before authorizing a search, particularly when it comes to areas that contain highly personal information such as cell phones."

A major question that the bill's proponents have not addressed is the question of what happens if you lock your phone.  If you safeguard your phone with a gesture or password, it's unclear whether an officer or court could punish you for failing to unlock.  This is a similar question to the issue of whether police have the right to demand forced decryption of suspects' hard drives.

Sources: NJ State Senate,

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Right to remain silent
By wookie1 on 6/12/2013 4:59:30 PM , Rating: 3
Lock your phone and invoke your right to remain silent.

RE: Right to remain silent
By shmmy on 6/12/2013 7:51:13 PM , Rating: 2
I think that's the point of this law. It would make you have to unlock your phone and show it to the officer. >.>

You know, just like you have to take a breathalyzer if the cop asks you to, if they suspect you have been drinking. (at least that's the law in NJ)

Ignorance is not an excuse, and does not create immunity from the law. (or possible law in this case haha)

Personally I would through my cell phone in my glove box. Then they would need a warrant to open it. Unless they can pull probable cause with the new law... :(

Then again I am not an asshat and talk on my phone, or text while driving. So...

RE: Right to remain silent
By wookie1 on 6/13/2013 12:50:12 AM , Rating: 2
I don't think that there's any way to compel you to unlock your phone without a court order. Even the court order might get overturned on appeal, like the guy who was ordered to unencrypt his hard drive.

In AZ, I think that you can refuse the field sobriety tests, including the breathalyzer. They'll get a blood sample from you at that point, though, but I think that they need a warrant for that.

RE: Right to remain silent
By TSS on 6/13/2013 7:31:37 AM , Rating: 2
OH that's right! Hah! I knew we forgot one of those to trample on. We sincerely apologize and will get right on it!

- The goverment.

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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