The Electronic Frontier Foundation [EFF] claims that researchers could have uncovered Volkswagen emissions cheat sooner if the carmaker had not hidden behind the DMCA.
Writing in its bog the EFF said that carmakers argue that it’s unlawful for independent researchers to look at the code that controls vehicles without the manufacturer’s permission.
Apparently they use the DMCA to prevent competition in the markets for add-on technologies and repair tools. But it also makes it harder for watchdogs to find safety or security issues, such as faulty code that can lead to unintended acceleration or vulnerabilities that let an attacker take over your car.
As a test the EFF asked the Librarian of Congress to grant an exemption to the DMCA to make it crystal clear that independent research on vehicle software doesn’t violate copyright law. This was opposed by the manufacturers who claimed that individuals would use the to violate emissions laws. Ironically the Environmental Protection Agency supported the manufacturers because it was worried that individual users would doctor their cars to cheat car tests.
What the EFF, and we guess the EPA did not know at the time Volkswagen had already programmed its entire fleet of vehicles to conceal how much pollution they generated using that code.
This code was shielded from watchdogs’ investigation by the anti-circumvention provision of the DMCA.
“When you entrust your health, safety, or privacy to a device, the law shouldn’t punish you for trying to understand how that device works and whether it is trustworthy. We hope the Copyright Office and the Librarian of Congress agree when they rule on our exemptions next month,” the EFF said.