22News I-Team: Massachusetts voters will decide on Right to Repair

I-Team

GRANBY, Mass. (WWLP) – The November election is still almost two months away, but the debate over ballot Question 1 is heating up.

A Right to Repair Law was passed by Massachusetts voters back in 2012. It allows manufacturers and repair shops direct access to a car’s computer system so issues can be diagnosed.

“It’s the OBD2 port that’s somewhere under the dash,” explained Scott Merrill, the owner of Dressel’s Service Station in Granby. “Every time you go get a sticker, it’s the same thing they do to make sure your car is ready for a sticker. We use a scan tool and do the same thing.”

This gave consumers a choice of going to either a dealership or a local repair shop to have their car fixed. But, the 2012 law doesn’t include real-time wireless communications, known as telematics, which later-model cars now have.

“It’s a lot like Bluetooth vs. an aux cord,” explained Tommy Hickey, the director of the Right to Repair Coalition. “If you want to listen to music you plug in to your phone and listen to music. Now, it all happens wirelessly. It’s a whole different way of connecting with the car.”

In cars that have these telematics, the information currently only flows from the car directly to automakers and dealerships. Question 1 would instead create a shared database for these telematics that can be used by independent repair shops, too, beginning with model year 2022.

“Right now after a few years, when you’re out of warranty or you don’t have a recall, you can have it fixed here,” said Merrill. “But, information is going to be locked up with them (the dealers). As the consumer, that gives you one less place where you can make a choice where you want to go.”

If Question 1 were to pass, car owners would have direct access to the data through a mobile app.

“Basically what would happen now is that cars technology has been updated so you can elaborate why the check engine light is going on,” explained Hickey. “If your brakes are about to go out and Question 1 passes, you would get the information directly, and say ‘hey I’d like to pass this to my independent repair, or your dealership,’ whoever you’d like to fix your car.”

As written now, the measure puts the responsibility of creating a secure database for this information on the car manufacturers.

“The creation of this system creates this grand place where all this data would be stored with very little protection and virtually no guard against outside hacking,” said Conor Yunits, a spokesperson for the Coalition for Safe and Secure Data. “Who’s securing it? Who’s making sure it’s protected from attack? None of that is addressed in this ballot question, and it creates way too much uncertainty and risk.”

In a letter sent to lawmakers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration expressed doubts that auto makers would be able to comply with the law by the 2022 deadline. The NHTSA also said Right to Repair could increase the risk of cyber security attacks.

“The ballot initiative requires vehicle manufacturers to redesign their vehicles in a manner that necessarily introduces cyber security risks, and to do so in a time frame that makes design, proof, and implementation of any meaningful countermeasure effectively impossible,” said James Owen, Deputy Administrator of NHTSA.

“Anyone could easily hack into the system, take control of the vehicles, learn where vehicles are, learn how consumers are driving, what their patterns are, and other personal information,” explained Yunits.

He added that this could include location data.

“On a very personal level, it could mean an abusive spouse could track their partner.”

This messaging, however, has come under attack by state officials like Attorney General Maura Healey. Hickey told the 22News I-Team that location is not what gets tracked.

“This is only information necessary to diagnose, maintain and repair the car,” Hickey said. “Not GPS location.”

The measure states that “mechanical data” related to vehicle maintenance and repair will be collected.

According to campaign finance documents, General Motors, Ford and Honda are the top campaign donors to the Coalition for Safe and Secure Data, which opposes updating the Right to Repair law.

Advanced Auto Parts and Auto Zone are top donors to the Right to Repair Coalition, the group that originally proposed the ballot question.

Right to Repair will be question 1 on the November 3rd ballot here in Massachusetts. A “yes” vote is in favor of passing it. A “no” vote would keep things the way they are.

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