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Senators Lee and Klobuchar’s Misguided Push for Right to Repair Regulation Throws America’s Cybersecurity Under the Bus

by Juan Londoño

Last week, Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) submitted a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) applauding their efforts on enacting “right to repair” regulations. In the letter, they called for stronger enforcement of regulations that would enable unauthorized third-party repairs. However, this ill-informed push will have many unforeseen consequences for consumers, especially because they will face higher data security risks. 

In the letter, the senators make a call for increased enforcement of existing laws, such as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. This assumes the law could be interpreted to restrict business practices that they consider an “unfair” restriction of third-party repairs.

Despite their good intentions, the senators’ push for so-called right to repair legislation could come with significant costs for consumers. It would leave them vulnerable to more cybersecurity risks, as it leaves equipment carrying sensitive information more susceptible to be compromised. The use of malicious software or hardware by unauthorized third-party repair shops only heightens that risk. While the letter complains that equipment used by schools, hospitals, and public safety agencies is too hard or too expensive to repair, it proposes to supposedly solve that issue by sacrificing the integrity of the devices altogether. This will offload the costs to users who will now see their potentially sensitive data be more easily taken by ill-intentioned individuals.

Not only are right to repair regulations actively harmful, they are increasingly redundant. Advocates for this policy claim that, without passing regulation, it will be impossible to make manufacturers more amenable to third-party repairs. However, that is not the case. In recent years, manufacturers have increasingly taken stepsto safely enable third-party repair work, while ensuring that these repairs are up to standard in terms of quality and security. Such regulation tries to make what should be voluntary agreements between two parties mandatory. It would ultimately do little to change the predominant status quo and would leave manufacturers with little recourse to enact quality control over the repair work done on their devices.  

Contrary to the senators’ beliefs, right to repair legislation would not make life easier or more affordable for Americans. Manufacturers would likely have to increase their prices to counteract the losses in revenue from in-house repairs. They would have to offset the rising costs of increasing production volume to fulfill the mandate to maintain a steady supply of spare parts to the public. 

Ultimately, the senators’ suggestion, while well-intentioned, is redundant, plagued with hidden costs, and will compromise the security of Americans’ data.

Published on June 18, 2024