Massachusetts’ Right-to-Repair Car Law Unexpectedly Reverses Course

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A recent news article discusses the issue of data ownership in cars and the right to repair. In Massachusetts, a law was passed in 2020 that required automakers to create an “open data platform” to allow car owners and independent repair shops to access the necessary information for diagnosis and repair. However, automakers argued that this platform could make their systems vulnerable to cyberattacks and jeopardize driver safety, leading to a lawsuit filed by the Alliance for Automotive Innovation. Despite previous hesitations, the Biden administration has now supported Massachusetts voters and the right to repair. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) wrote a letter stating their strong support for the law and allowing the state to enforce it. This change in stance has opened up possibilities for a broader discussion on national right-to-repair issues and the future of internet-connected cars.

The letter from the NHTSA signifies a shift in the Biden administration’s position on the right to repair. While they had previously involved the Federal Trade Commission in fighting against manufacturers who restricted independent repairs, they had warned automakers not to comply with Massachusetts’ law in June due to concerns about cyber vulnerabilities. However, the recent letter shows that the federal government and Massachusetts have found ways to provide access to vehicle repair information securely. For instance, car manufacturers could use short-range wireless protocols, such as Bluetooth, to grant authorized access to owners or independent shops for diagnosis and repairs. This development provides an opportunity for a broader conversation on the future of internet-connected cars, ensuring privacy, safety, and the right to repair.

The impact of the federal government’s recent support for the Massachusetts law on car buyers in the state remains uncertain. The lawsuit filed by automakers against the right-to-repair law is still ongoing, and it is unclear how this new development will affect it. The state’s attorney general, Andrea Joy Campbell, had previously stated intentions to enforce the law, but the open data platform required by the law has yet to be established. The NHTSA’s letter acknowledged this and mentioned that manufacturers would be given a reasonable timeframe to develop and implement the technology securely. We are yet to know how this will precisely unfold, and the office of the Massachusetts Attorney General did not provide a response to inquiries regarding these matters.

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