September 20, 2017

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Proposed legislation would give hackers keys to the kingdom

Cyberattacks are a persistent threat to our modern, technology-driven economy and personal lives. To confront them, we should be focused on policies that bolster our nation’s cyber defenses.

Unfortunately, the Massachusetts Legislature is considering two bills this month that will do just the opposite. They would force technology manufacturers to reveal intellectual property about their devices, including source code, making us more vulnerable to cyberattacks.

The legislation — H.143 in the House and S.96 in the Senate — is being deceptively sold to the public as a way of giving consumers more options for fixing digital devices on their own. The reality is that, if passed, this legislation would place residents of the commonwealth squarely in the crosshairs of hackers.

The legislation would require technology manufacturers to make their devices’ software, repair tools, and detailed diagnostic information publicly available. This would impact devices and equipment across the board, including smartphones, video game platforms, computers and drones.

Forcing technology companies to open up their intellectual property to the public would create significant security vulnerabilities and put Massachusetts consumers at increased risk of being hacked. Simply put, passage of this legislation would be a gift to cybercriminals. It would provide them with access to sensitive technical information about the devices and networks they are targeting.

In addition to putting us at increased risk of cyberattacks, this bill would have a stifling effect on research and development (R&D) in the technology industry, which is a major economic engine of the commonwealth’s booming innovation sector.

Technology companies invest heavily in the development of new and innovative products here in Massachusetts, and the protection of intellectual property is critical to these efforts. The proposed legislation would compromise companies’ R&D initiatives by making public the essential information that makes their products unique. This would have a chilling effect on competition and innovation.

The Bay State has long been considered an innovation leader because we combine world-class research universities, brilliant innovators, and a policy environment that encourages technological progress. No other state has yet to adopt a policy like this, and Massachusetts should not be the first to make the mistake of exposing our residents and economy to such needless risk.

Lawmakers and innovators should be collaborating to protect consumers from cyberattacks. Yet, this harmful legislation would give hackers the keys to the kingdom instead of protecting the privacy and security of our technology-driven society.

We urge Massachusetts’ lawmakers to oppose this legislation and stand up to protect the security of our digital devices.

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