The privacy implications of Wisconsin’s texting ban

A statewide ban on composing text and email messages while driving went into effect the first of this month. At less than a page the law is brief, but not necessarily simple. Reading text messages is still legal, but this from the Beloit Daily News stands out;

[Town of Beloit Sgt. Laura] Palmer said officers can ask during any stop to see the driver’s cell phone but the driver is not required to oblige.

In the event of a serious accident or a serious violation, however, Palmer said officers could confiscate the phone. A search warrant would then be obtained to allow them to look for texting evidence on the phone.

What does this mean for privacy?

If a driver was incapacitated in an accident, could a phone tucked away in a purse/bag be confiscated? Would we need to rely on a judge to not grant a search warrant, given that a driver found incapacitated would likely not have been able to position their phone in an inaccessible place following an accident?

Or was the Beloit officer simply incorrect in her assessment of the law?

What does everyone think? Also, hang up and drive please, and not just because the state said so.


UPDATE: The Green Bay Press Gazette quotes an officer saying email is not prohibited under the ban. It clearly is, as the act created statute 346.89 (3)(a): “No person may drive, as defined in s. 343.305 (1) (b), any motor vehicle while composing or sending an electronic text message or an electronic mail message.”

Not only is the officer wrong about the law, the paper didn’t check the facts.


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13 thoughts on “The privacy implications of Wisconsin’s texting ban

  1. Personally I wish this law didn’t have to be in place on the principle but the texting while driving is sometimes ridiculous. I often don’t use my phone for texting unless it’s important business and it’s often if I’m getting gas or something else along those lines.

    Basically, I think some people need to hit in the head for their irresponsibility by paying attention more to their texts then the actual road so it should be treated as such. It’s kind of along the lines of driving while intoxicated with drugs and or alcohol – you should be penalized harshly for that.

    In the case of a serious accident or serious violation, it should be confiscated.

    1. “In the case of a serious accident or serious violation, it should be confiscated.”

      Why? What gives the police the authority to seize your personal property without probable cause and without a warrant?

      Is it your desire to expunge our constitutional rights or is your desire to find a reason to punish somebody because something bad happened, and we MUST find a guilty person by one means or another?

      Should we take DNA tests, too? How about testing for blood alcohol 100% of the time?

      I don’t have to prove I am innocent, you have to prove that I am guilty, and I do not have to testify against myself nor do my electronics have to testify against me.

      1. If people get into a serious crash that mangles another person because of irresponsibility, I’m not sure how much I can get behind that? As long as there a search warrant and strong enough evidence, I see it fair enough to confiscated.

  2. While I generally support a ban on texting while driving, I still believe officers should need to meet their burden of proof before being able to start trolling through someone’s cell phone to look for text messages.

  3. So regarding my update, what’s worse, the officer not knowing the law or the paper printing the officers statement?

    1. Neither is that bad. It’s a new law…there are kinks that’ll be worked out. It’s interesting the way they wrote the law though. I think they should change the wording from “driving” to “operating”.

    1. What does that have to do with the topic? Labeling and calling something irrelevant doesn’t help or further the discussion. IMO.

  4. Well Jim asked if the paper printing the officer’s statement was worse, and i was pointing out that the BDN is no longer a relevant newspaper and stopped practicing journalism years ago.

  5. The update was from the GB Press Gazette, for what that’s worth.
    As far as driving vs. operating, driving looks to be defined by state law, if operating isn’t that would complicate things. More importantly, you can get an OWI while passed out behind the wheel of your car. I would hate to see someone get a ticket for texting while parked on a street.

    1. Shouldn’t matter. The statute explicitly says driving. As you mentioned, driving is defined…

      (b) “Drive” means the exercise of physical control over the speed and direction of a motor vehicle while it is in motion.

      If you’re parked or stopped (even at a light or stop sign) according to the statute, you CAN compose or send email and texts.

      Also worth noting, the statue does not outlaw reading text messages or emails while driving.

      I suppose on one hand, I should he happy that this is in general, what I’ve been grumbling about for years. Clear, specific, targeted laws that anyone can read and comprehend.

      On the other hand, it’s just plain idiot. Distracted driver laws already on the books address the issue just as good as…strike that, I think they actually addresses the issue better.

      1. Good catch, Locke. I noted, too, that it is okay to enter street addresses into your TomTom but not okay to text. Why am I not surprised?

      2. “Distracted driver laws already on the books address the issue just as good as…strike that, I think they actually addresses the issue better.”

        In the event of an accident, I think that’s a solid assessment. This explicit text-ban might have been intended as more of a preventative measure, with the public having that clear, specific law to comprehend you mentioned.

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