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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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And what about
By Shadowself on 6/12/2013 7:08:13 PM , Rating: 2
What about cars that interface with your cell phone through Bluetooth and can make calls hands free? I know of no state where that's illegal.

If I have such a car coupled to my phone and I have an accident, are the police going to claim I was driving and using the phone NOT hands free (which is illegal in some states)? There would be no way to positively prove that I was using the Bluetooth interface.

Who wins in court then? The police officer who claims I was making the call with the phone in hand (he wasn't at the accident site at the time of the accident), or me saying I was using the Bluetooth interface and making the call completely hands free? You know 99% of the time who the courts will support in this "He said, she said" arrangement.

And what about Apple's supposed upcoming integration with over a half a dozen car manufacturers that Apple claims is both "hands free" and "eyes free" (i.e., you don't have to touch your phone or the screen in the car and you don't even have to take your eyes off the road to look at the phone or the screen in your car). If you use that implementation to receive or place a call, can the police claim you were using the phone by hand since you likely will have zero proof that you were using this "hands free" and "eyes free" implementation?

This is a bill that, if if becomes law, could seriously screw over some drivers.

RE: And what about
By wookie1 on 6/13/2013 12:54:18 AM , Rating: 2
With systems like Ford's Sync, you don't need to look at or touch the phone to make a call - it's all voice command. I'm sure that there are certain names though that are difficult for it to get, as well as people's accents. It's worked well for me, though.

"This is from the It's a science website." -- Rush Limbaugh

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