MASS 2020 Question #1 Debate Yes or No?

Question 1 asks voters if they approve of a proposed law that would require that motor vehicle owners and independent repair facilities be provided with expanded access to mechanical data related to vehicle maintenance and repair.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s Office of Administration and Finance is required by law to analyze the fiscal consequences if the proposed law is approved. “The proposed law has no discernible material fiscal consequences for state and municipal government finances,” says the analysis.

“Massachusetts voters voted a record-setting 86 percent in favor of the Right to Repair ballot initiative in 2012,” said Tommy Hickey, Director of the Right To Repair Coalition, the group urging a “yes” vote on Question 1, to Beacon Hill Roll Call. “Technology has evolved and there was a loophole in the law carving out wireless communications that manufacturers are using to restrict access to independent repair shops forcing consumers to dealerships. This ballot initiative would give car owners direct access to their diagnostic and repair information because we, as a coalition, believe if you bought the car, you should get all the information necessary to fix it and share the information with a repair shop of your choice.”

“Question 1 is not Right to Repair,” said Conor Yunits, spokesperson for the Coalition for Safe and Secure Data, the group urging a “no” vote on Question 1, to Beacon Hill Roll Call. “We already have Right to Repair in Massachusetts, and it works: more than 70 percent of post-warranty repairs are done by independent mechanics. They are a critical piece of the repair network and that will not change. Question 1 is about major national retail chains like AutoZone and NAPA spending $21 million in Massachusetts because they want your data. Question 1 creates an ‘open access platform’ that connects to every vehicle in Massachusetts and unlocks a secure system, which is why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warns that malicious actors could access and potentially take control of your vehicle.”

A dispute has also erupted between the two groups on whether the availability of this information can be dangerous for victims of domestic violence.

“Domestic violence advocates warn how dangerous this information could be,” says Yunits. “Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, wrote, ‘Access to vehicle data, particularly call logs and GPS location, enables persons who perpetrate abuse to possess the tools necessary to track and monitor their victim.’”

But supporters of Question 1 disagree. “The Jane Doe group was ill-informed that this ballot initiative was about GPS location which it is not,” responded Hickey. “They have since withdrawn their position after finding out that this was simply about mechanical information necessary to diagnose, maintain and repair the car. In fact, they have also stated they did not give permission to car manufacturers to use their group’s name in the voter guidebook.”

Toni Troop, Director of Communications and Development for Jane Doe Inc., responded to Beacon Hill Roll Call’s request to explain the situation. “This past week, many of you received a 2020 Voters Guide in the mail,” said Troop. “In that guide, Jane Doe, Inc. is quoted and portrayed as opposing Question 1. We would like to be clear that [we were] not consulted about our inclusion in this guide. While Jane Doe Inc. is not taking a public stand on this ballot question, at this time, we do not believe that a yes vote on Question 1 would uniquely compromise survivor safety in the manner portrayed by opponents [of the bill].”

Opponents of Question 1 defended their use of the quotes from Jane Doe. “Our Red Book language quotes directly from public testimony Jane Doe Inc. submitted to the Legislature,” countered Yunits. “We followed appropriate channels to inform them this language would be included in the Red Book before it was submitted in July.”

“When we were first presented with the Right to Repair issue late last year, we turned to our coalition partners in California for guidance given that they had recently navigated a similar initiative in their state,” said Troop. “Drawing from their experiences and insight, we wrote testimony in opposition to the Right to Repair legislation. At the time, our analysis of that legislation raised some safety and privacy concerns for victims and survivors of sexual and domestic violence that we did not feel had been adequately addressed by proponents. We raised specific concerns regarding the potential for abuse due to the broadening of avenues to abuse access to data.”

“Since January, our analysis has evolved,” continued Troop. “The current ballot question proposed is distinct from what was initially proposed in California and does not appear to pose the heightened risk of breach of personal information as suggested by those who oppose this initiative.”

“Let’s be very clear,” said Brian Johnson, owner of Brian’s Auto Repair and Tire in Fitchburg and a supporter of Question 1. “Car manufacturers have one goal here, and one goal only—to steer you to their dealerships where you will pay more for the services. They may tell you otherwise, but the bottom line is this: Without access to their secure gateways, we will have no way of accessing the diagnostic information we need. And it is prohibitively expensive to gain that access.”

“Right to Repair 2020 is not about repair at all,” said General Manager Jason Pappas of Copeland Chevrolet in Brockton, an opponent of Question 1. “The OnStar system is the largest vehicle telematics system in the United States and as a Chevrolet dealer we do not use it to repair vehicles. We connect to vehicles through the OBD 2 Connector under the dashboard, which is the same way independent repair facilities connect to a vehicle. Vote no on Question 1 and protect your data. This is nothing more than a data grab by aftermarket parts manufacturers and large repair chains.”

Here are the official arguments, gathered by the secretary of state, by each side of the question. A maximum of 150 words is allowed.

IN FAVOR OF QUESTION #1: Written by Tommy Hickey, Massachusetts Right to Repair, (617) 248-9772

“A yes vote for Right to Repair will guarantee that as technology advances, drivers can continue to get their cars repaired where they want. We passed the first Right to Repair law in 2012, but as new cars become more computerized auto manufacturers are using a loophole to restrict access to data needed to diagnose problems, make repairs and perform maintenance. This means car owners are steered toward more expensive dealer repair options. Vote yes to protect independent repair shops and preserve your ability to shop around. Voting yes provides access only to mechanical and repair information, not personal information. A yes vote ensures that you will have the choice to provide access to the repair information necessary to fix your car to your local independent repair shop even as cars become more computerized. It’s your car, you paid for it, you should get it fixed where you want.”

AGAINST QUESTION #1: Steve McElhinney, for Safe and Secure Data 617-398-0281

“Vote no on Question 1 to protect your privacy, your safety and your family. Question 1 has nothing to do with fixing cars. Question 1 is a data grab by third parties who want to gather your personal vehicle information and access it remotely, including location data in real time. Domestic violence advocates warn how dangerous this information could be. Jane Doe, the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, wrote, ‘Access to vehicle data, particularly call logs and GPS location, enables persons who perpetrate abuse to possess the tools necessary to track and monitor their victim.’ A similar proposal failed in California after the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault warned, ‘from this information, a third party, such as a sexual predator, could stalk and/or harm victims.’ Privacy advocates, cybersecurity experts, and domestic violence advocacy groups urge you to vote no on Question 1.”

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