Despite MN Supreme Court Ruling, Breathalyzer Manufacturer Refuses to Turn Over Source Code
from the code-is-law dept
Earlier this month, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that defendants accused of drunk driving have the right to inspect the source code of the breathalyzers used in their arrest. This is the right decision for a number of reasons – not only have studies shown that breathalyzers are poorly coded, potentially leading to inaccurate results, but in a legal system with the right to confront one’s accusers, being able to examine the source code for errors seems like a fair digital extension. Given that more and more law enforcement is being done through shoddy technical tools, assuring fair procedure in code is no different than doing so for police officer behavior.
However, the breathalyzer manufacturer, CMI, is refusing to turn over the source code, claiming that doing so would reveal “trade secrets.” Ed Felten points out that this is logically inconsistent with CMI’s assertion that the source code is straight-forward calculations. If that is so, secrecy isn’t what is stopping competitors from emulating CMI’s product. The more likely reason for not revealing the source code, of course, is the same reason e-voting is so controversial: the code is crappy.
The obvious answer was posited years ago by Eric S. Raymond – given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow. The source code for breathalyzers, e-voting machines and other technical law enforcers should be open source to ensure that secrecy doesn’t obscure important imperfections.