Should research on vehicle software be hidden from the public?

(credit: Rachel Johnson)

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) says security researchers tinkering with vehicle software shouldn’t be allowed to go public with their findings. The agency “is concerned that there may be circumstances in which security researchers may not fully appreciate the potential safety ramifications” if their findings are released in the wild.

That’s according to a DOT letter (PDF) to federal IP regulators who are considering a proposal to allow the public to circumvent copyright protection measures attached to vehicle software. Known as “technological protection measures” (TPMs), automakers employ this type of copyright scheme in a bid to make it a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) violation to examine or tinker with the code in onboard vehicle software.

The debate over whether vehicle owners have a right to tinker with the software on their vehicles—just like they have the right to change their own oil—comes amid a growing and global in-vehicle software scandal at Volkswagen. And it comes as the US Copyright Office is considering a proposal from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others that would authorize such tinkering without chilling researchers’ speech.

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