New Jersey Bill Would Allow Cops to Search Your Cell Phone Messages, Calls After Crash
June 12, 2013 4:30 PM
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 (
) 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.
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
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
NJ State Senate
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