Oakland Press: Senate legislation will provide increased security, safety on the road

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. It 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. Last summer, we learned that Chinese hackers stole the personal identity information of more than 20 million Americans.

Now, even cars and trucks are vulnerable to cyberattacks. A year ago, security experts at Wired magazine remotely hacked into a 2014 Jeep Cherokee’s “Uconnect infotainment” system while the Jeep was being driven. Not only were the hackers able to control the interior features of the car, such as air conditioning, locks and the radio, but they disabled the SUV’s engine functions as well.

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.

Senate Bills 927 and 928 are a vital part of the entire autonomous vehicle package of bills. These two measures provide a critical foundation for the other bills in the package: the assurance to motorists and the public that willful mischief and more sinister actions against this technology will be harshly punished.

SB 927, which I sponsored, would specify that it is a crime to damage a vehicle’s computer system or gain unauthorized control of a vehicle. SB 928, sponsored by Sen. Ken Horn, would provide sentencing guidelines for these crimes.

The autonomous vehicle package holds great promise for traffic safety, for adding mobility to those without it, and for our state’s economic strength. These tangible benefits are powerful arguments, but they need the public protection of tough sanctions against those who would abuse the technology or terrorize the public through such abuse.

SBs 927 and 928 will be an important tool that our state and local law enforcement and prosecutors can use immediately to punish bad actors. Other sanctions will be coming at the federal level and other deterrents through the efforts of the auto and technology industries. Passage of these bills can be a forerunner for those actions and can send a strong signal that the advancement of the technology will also be linked to strong public protection.

Cybersecurity for vehicles was the focus of an international summit in Detroit on Friday, July 22. Key individuals such as the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and the CEO of General Motors Mary Barra were among those who participated. People involved with this issue nationally and internationally watched this summit closely. More efforts will be forthcoming, but this summit was a real sign of how serious and timely the issue has become.

It’s important to note that the bills do not intend to penalize those engaged in innocent activities such as car maintenance or legitimate university or corporate research. The goal of the legislation is to take appropriate actions available to the state Legislature to provide public assurance of security. These bills will help in that regard and in the larger goal of advancing this important and useful technology.

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 Oakland Press. 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.