Spinal Column: Kowall measure to help protect against car-hacking

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Sen. Mike Kowall

Sen. Mike Kowall

By Sen. Mike Kowall
15th Senate District

Today’s sophisticated technology provides us access to more information than ever before more quickly than ever before; eases the backbreaking load for workers in many industries; and provides access to cutting-edge medical equipment that can significantly improve our health and quality of life.

These are just some of the benefits of modern technology. The high-tech we encounter everywhere, every day certainly is a blessing. But it is one that comes with responsibility and risk.

While computers double their capabilities every 12 to 18 months and our cellphones are now minicomputers that easily and dramatically outperform the top supercomputers of a generation ago, these devices are vulnerable to hacking and other security threats.

These threats affect more and more of us. It seems like each week brings a new disclosure of either a national or worldwide security breach. We learned in July that Chinese hackers stole the personal identity information of more than 20 million Americans.

This is a risk we have faced in our homes ever since we got online, but since vehicles are increasingly equipped with systems that connect drivers to the information superhighway — the Internet — while they cruise the actual highway, even cars and trucks are now vulnerable to cyberattacks.

This new threat was presented to the auto world recently when writers of a technology magazine revealed that security experts were able to hack into a vehicle and disable some of its functions.

Wired magazine said their experts remotely hacked into a 2014 Jeep Cherokee’s “Uconnect infotainment” system while the jeep was being driven. The “hackers” disabled the SUV’s engine functions and controlled interior features such as air conditioning, locks and the radio.

Computers now often control such vital operations as a car’s acceleration and braking. Cyberattacks on these systems threaten our security and safety. We must make sure we do all we can to protect our cars and trucks from such attacks, including updating the law to address these new crimes.

I will soon be introducing legislation in the state Senate that will increase the penalties for maliciously hacking into a vehicle’s computer technology. Under my bill, the penalty for such a crime will be the same as the penalty for carjacking. A serious crime such as hacking into a motor vehicle deserves serious consequences.

My measure also will make a distinction between “critical” and “noncritical” software systems, enable owners of vehicles to terminate the collection and retention of driving data under “Consumer Control” provisions, and put in place other consumer protections.

Hacking into a vehicle’s computer information system poses a significant threat to the security and safety of the auto’s driver and to the safety of others. We must take this threat seriously and enact laws to help prevent these crimes.

This column first appeared in the Spinal Column newsweekly. Senator Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is the Michigan Senate majority floor leader. He serves the residents of the 15th Senate District, representing western Oakland County.