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Michigan lawmakers want to jail you for life for hacking cars

While automotive cybersecurity is quite important, that seems a bit much.

13 Jun 2013 --- Sonar festival, Barcelona. Hackers --- Image by © Philippe Lissac/Godong/Corbis
Philippe Lissac, © Philippe Lissac/Godong/Corbis

The auto industry is only now coming to grips with the seriousness of car hacking. After several high-profile stories, including Wired's Jeep Cherokee feature that spurred a subsequent recall, some states are beginning to crack down on would-be electronic riff-raff. And then there's Michigan.

Two Michigan state senators -- Mike Kowall (R-White Lake) and Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth) -- have put forth bills that would implement a felony charge for people who "intentionally access or cause access to be made to an electronic system of a motor vehicle to willfully destroy, damage, impair, alter or gain unauthorized control of the motor vehicle." The maximum sentence for that charge is life in prison.

Now, don't get me wrong, if you dive into a car's systems with the intent of causing injury or other mayhem, you deserve to be arrested. You deserve to go to jail. My concern doesn't lie with making sure criminals get theirs. My concern lies with enterprising geeks, like the gentlemen who used a hacked Tesla API to add voice commands to its Summon system.

After reading through the bills, what Mr. Goecke did with his own Tesla Model S seems to be considered criminal activity. He didn't receive written or oral permission from Tesla, and using an altered API would almost certainly fall under "gain[ing] unauthorized control of the motor vehicle," even if that control wasn't meant for more than a personal lark.

I would venture to guess that most of us have a strong interest in ensuring that vehicle hacking is a problem that's dealt with strongly, but rushing out a bill that potentially lumps together genuine criminals and tech aficionados with spare time on their hands is troublesome.