Our Open Letter to Senator Monning about SB994

Dear Senator Monning,

We support your bill, SB 994, which will give consumers the right to access and share the information from their cars.

SB994 gives people access to information about their car

Who owns our vehicles? The answer used to be obvious. Now, with electronics integrated into just about everything we buy, the answer has changed. We live in a digital age, and the products that we buy are complex. Copyright is impacting more people than ever before because the line between hardware and software, physical and digital has blurred.

Using, repairing, and modifying modern products requires access to information: code, service manuals, error codes, and diagnostic tools. Modern cars are part horsepower, part high-powered computer. Silicon permeates and powers almost everything we own.

SB 994 is a property rights issue. Who has the right to the data from our vehicles?

Current law is biased against vehicle owners, turning regular people — like students, researchers, and small repair business owners — into criminals. Fortune 500 telecom manufacturer Avaya, for example, is known for suing service companies, accusing them of violating copyright for simply logging in to their customer’s phone systems. With modern telematic systems, we expect automotive manufacturers to use the same techniques to prevent independent management and service of automobiles.

Independent repair shops and software developers can only innovate around open products. The process to create new repair services and apps for vehicles is only possible if the design is open and supports new ideas, products, and markets. Unfortunately, the automotive manufacturer’s approach to telematics has been anything but transparent.

Our industry, and the members that we serve, need to be able to access vehicle owners’ information. Car owners’ data should be used to serve more than the narrow commercial interests of a few large corporations.

If this information was available, then governments, researchers, and software startups would be able to innovate with it. They could come up with new solutions for fuel efficiency, build pro-active repair apps to help people maintain their vehicles more effectively, and report emissions information to their mechanics. Imagine if consumers had the information that their emissions were spiking, they could proactively get it fixed rather than waiting for a smog check, for example. Innovative companies could develop monitoring applications for fleets of vehicles.

Open data breeds innovation. While we believe that some improvements could be made to the current bill to expand it beyond automobiles, guarantee independent repair shops right to service vehicles, and ensure application developers ability to innovate, we wholeheartedly support the concept and your work in this area.

Guaranteeing access to vehicle information will benefit local innovators, consumers, and the environment.