Three high-profile incidents this year have made it patently clear that our cars are now computers: Security researcher Charlie Miller hacked and shut down a Jeep Cherokee while it was going 70 mph on the highway, Volkswagen was caught tampering with its emissions test software to make its cars look more efficient than they are, and Tesla pushed out an “autopilot” mode via an over-the-air software update.
So if cars are computers, should it be illegal to hack or repair them? The House Energy and Commerce Committee believes so, and has published a draft of legislation that would make it illegal for anyone to hack a car, even if they owned it or were conducting research on it.
As Harley Geiger of the Center for Democracy and Technology explained in a blog post, by not defining who has the ability to grant “authorization,” the wording leaves much to interpretation. The bill can be partially fixed, he wrote, by “clarifying that the vehicle owner can provide authorization for access to the software, even if the manufacturer does not provide authorization.”
That sounds like a simple change, but any attempt to define that term may be met with resistance by vehicle manufacturers, who have used copyright law to restrict who can tinker with and repair a car for years now.
If we agree that cars are now computers, the future of car repair probably lies in its software. And if altering the software is “hacking,” then, as Geiger mentions later on in his post, this bill could more strictly narrow who is able to work on cars or point out their security flaws.