Massachusetts Ballot Question 1 Still on the Forefront as Automakers Sue to Block its Implementation

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A group of automakers through the Alliance for Automotive Innovation is suing Massachusetts in federal court to block the new ‘Right to Repair’ law that passed on November 3rd . This law was known as “Question 1” to Massachusetts residents hitting the polls earlier this month.  As we discussed in our prior blog post, the new state law expands access to certain diagnostic and repair data collected by onboard computer systems that is currently only accessible in ‘real-time’ by the manufacturers (and in turn, their dealers). The lawsuit argues that it will impose a financial burden on auto manufacturers and threatens the privacy of car owners by exposing data from their vehicles. We discussed many of these privacy and security concerns in our post back in October when consumers were still contemplating whether they wanted their small autobody shops to have more access to their data or to prevent more sharing of their vehicle’s data.

The lawsuit asks the court to declare the new Right to Repair expansion to be legally unenforceable. It claims that this new law violates numerous federal laws related to cybersecurity and intellectual property. The lawsuit also poses the arguments that auto manufacturers made during the ballot campaign: that independent autobody shops already have access to the data they need to fix consumers’ vehicles under the existing Right to Repair law.

Moreover, manufacturers say the requirement that they install a standardized  “platform” on all cars equipped with telematic technology sold in Massachusetts by model year 2022 forces them to implement the requirement immediately because the first production of 2022 models are already getting ready to hit the market.

Finally, the lawsuit relies heavily on the testimonial letter that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sent to a committee of the state legislature back in July that stated that Question 1 posed new cyber risks by compromising the integrity of a vehicles functions such as steering, acceleration and braking. However, the NHTSA also stated in its letter that manufacturers should continue to control those vehicle functions, which, on its face, the new Right to Repair Law also seems to support (i.e. the new system in 2022 models will communicate “mechanical data,” and the proposed definition of “mechanical data” states that it includes information that is “related to the diagnosis, repair or maintenance of the vehicle.” This would NOT include telematics data collected related to an immobilizer system or security-related electronic modules. That exception is not being stricken by these proposed revisions). 

We will follow this lawsuit to see how it shapes access to vehicle data not only in Massachusetts but across the country as a whole as more and more cars are equipped with real-time telematics data collection and transmission.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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