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Massachusetts is Threatening Drivers’ Security, Feds Say

By David B. McGarry

Massachusetts enacted a so-called “right to repair” law in 2020. The law requires automotive manufacturers to make available to consumers and third-party auto shops the wireless diagnostic tools necessary to service vehicles. Recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sent a letter advising 22 leading manufacturers that compliance with the Bay State’s statute would violate federal safety standards.

NHTSA noted that, “Open access to vehicle manufacturers’ telematics offerings with the ability to remotely send commands allows for manipulation of systems on a vehicle, including safety-critical functions such as steering, acceleration, or braking, as well as equipment required by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) such as air bags and electronic stability control…A malicious actor here or abroad could utilize such open access to remotely command vehicles to operate dangerously, including attacking multiple vehicles concurrently.”

NHTSA’s letter should remind policymakers of the imprudence of flippantly manufacturing so-called “rights.” Many seem to assume that labeling a regulatory proposal a right miraculously removes its potential to generate unintended consequences. Third-party repair, interoperability, open-source products, etc. have undeniable utility in some instances. In others, they pose significant cybersecurity, and other technical risks. Industry and consumers must balance the competing values of convenience and security.

The European Union’s floundering tech sector, dragged underwater by a metric ton of burdensome regulations, demonstrates this. For example, the regulatory burdens of the E.U.’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) “induced the exit of about a third of available apps,” according to a report from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

American attempts to import continental competition policy in such bills as the American Innovation and Choice Online (AICO) Act will cause economic stagnation and severely compromise cybersecurity.

In economics, technological development, and the rest of life, there are tradeoffs. Despite the fondest wishes of would-be technocrats, basic economics has illustrated repeatedly that markets, not politicians, resolve these tensions best.

Published on July 5, 2023