Volkswagen’s Diesel Fraud and Open Source

It was nice to see that someone at the NYTimes made this connection: Volkswagen’s Diesel Fraud Makes Critic of Secret Code a Prophet [pdf]:

“Proprietary software is an unsafe building material,” Mr. [Eben] Moglen had said. “You can’t inspect it.”

That was five years ago. On Tuesday, Volkswagen admitted it had rigged the proprietary software on 11 million of its diesel cars around the world so that they would pass emissions tests when they were actually spreading smog.

The breadth of the Volkswagen scandal should not obscure the broader question of how vulnerable we are to software code that is out of sight and beyond oversight.

Sadly, the article closes with the EPA closing ranks with the automakers:

That is not how carmakers or even the E.P.A. see things. The code in automobiles is tightly protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Last year, several groups sought to have the code made available for “good-faith testing, identifying, disclosing and fixing of malfunctions, security flaws or vulnerabilities,” as Alex Davies reported last week in Wired [pdf].

A group of automobile manufacturers said that opening the code to scrutiny could create “serious threats to safety and security.” And two months ago, the E.P.A. said it, too, opposed such a move because people might try to reprogram their cars to beat emission rules.

Later: A great turn of phrase — “The Internet of Cheating Things” in Volkswagen and the Era of Cheating Software [pdf]