Will the Government Ruin Self-Driving Cars?
By Garrett Kehr - July 03, 2017

Over the past several decades, cars have become increasingly high tech allowing for computers to take larger roles in the routine functions of the car.  Computerized functions have been a boon to consumers, who advantage from greater reliability and efficiency, but also to criminal hackers who advantage from greater vulnerability.

Starting around the turn of the last decade tech enthusiasts started toying around with the concept of hacking into cars.  So-called “white hat” hackers, who seek out exploits in technology so companies can fix them, successfully attempted to remotely disable a sedan’s breaks and allowed for companies to take hacking into consideration when developing future models.   

Notably, a study done by two researchers discovered a vulnerability in Fiat Chrysler’s vehicles which caused a massive recall of 1.4 million vehicles.  After the incident, the company created a tool for car owners to constantly check for updates available to make their car safer whenever the Chryslers become aware of a threat.

The trend has become so troubling to automakers that most auto companies now employ entire firms dedicated to attempting to find exploits in their cars’ software.  Tesla recently profited from employing such efforts when Keen Security Lab was able to remotely take over a Tesla Model S car.  Due to the alert afforded by the security team’s efforts Tesla was able to create and distribute a patch immediately before any nefarious parties could take action with the flaw.

The common theme between all these examples is the company seeking out flaws in its own technology so as to better serve consumers and ensure greater safety for the public. To the public’s knowledge no criminal entity has yet determined how to remotely hack into a car on the market, but due to the lawless actions taken by entities within the federal government, that could soon change.

Threat From The CIA

Researchers within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have been creating tools to hack into consumer vehicles. While the spy agency is within its alleged charter to create tools for espionage designed to keep Americans safe, their actions surrounding this technology have done the exact opposite.

The CIA has a horrific track record of keeping its hacking arsenal a secret.  By seeking out exploits in automobiles without notifying automakers of their efforts and findings the CIA has explicitly endangered the lives of drivers across the globe.  Already criminal entities are weaponizing the tools lost by the CIA and other government agencies.  In short, the CIA created major dangers to car owners within America and abroad through both its own intentional actions and unintentional negligence.

Even if the CIA could be trusted to hold onto the secret tools and ensure that it would be the only entity with the power to remotely take over cars there is no guarantee Americans would be safe. During the tenure of the CIA forces within the organization have long sought to increase the scope of their operations and actively engage in operations on US soil. There is no telling the grief that the agency could cause with this technology.  Already there is speculation that the agency has used this technology on American citizens, such as Michael Hastings.    

The dangers presented by the CIA’s actions have been amplified with the advent of the self-driving car. Consumers have been brought into a new age of transportation unleashed by the forces of creative destruction so important to the free market system. Soon individuals will be able to experience an entirely automated commute and enjoy the benefits of an automated distribution of goods. The public can only hope the government doesn’t get in the way of this amazing innovation as they have done with so many other great technological leaps


With the great volume of benefits made possible through this technology comes significant threats, however, which are magnified by the federal government’s general incompetency.  In order to better serve the vehicle owner, automated vehicles will undoubtedly collect data on consumer habits, driving patterns, and other personal information to better suit the experience to drivers’ needs.

To better “protect” the public, federal regulators have proposed a myriad of rules aimed at making the vehicles safer, which of course will not only stifle innovation, but will likely be outdated by the time they are codified due to the rapid advancements of this technology.

In a laughable demonstration of their lack of self-awareness the same government which is deploying resources to hack into electric cars is simultaneously proposing regulations on how companies can use data collected by autonomous vehicles in the name of privacy.  The leviathan is restricting companies from better serving their customers while concurrently building cyber weapons to endanger those same consumers!  

To battle this monstrous trajectory some advocacy groups are lobbying Congress for greater restrictions on intelligence agencies.  In an effort to ensure government agencies no longer create de-facto backdoor entries into private property political organizations are urging Congress to enact a Digital Bill Of Rights, but that may not be enough.  

Regardless of what laws are on the books intelligence agencies will always attempt to gain more power over information.  Not even the sacred Fourth Amendment has stopped the Intelligence Industrial Complex from spying on Americans.  Even if Congress were able to rein in known programs which endangered consumers, who knows what kind of secret programs these agencies could cook up.  If consumers want real protections from covert government spy craft they will need to take action into their own hands.

Market Approach

Per usual, when the government creates a major problem, the market creates a major solution. Already major firms are taking action to fight back against the increased hackability of automobiles.  Notably insurance companies are now starting to offer packages which include protections from hacker related damages.  Offering a more active role from customers, Geico, a major American auto insurer, has initiated a campaign focused on spreading tips regarding how to avoid car hacking.  

Acting on the trend of taking digital safety out of the government’s hands and into the driver’s, numerous automotive groups and publications have started publishing on how to make cars hack proof.  Of course the most needed solution is the rewarding of firms who put consumer safety first and governmental demands of back doors last.  Already this trend can be seen as companies such as General Motors and Tesla, who both invest significantly in cyber security, have seen their market shares rise.  

While consumers will play a large role in deciding how safe cars are from government snooping, technology might outpace consumer preferences and provide a solution much faster.  Technology advocates are now calling on automakers to release the code used to run various aspects of motor vehicles and utilize an open-source model. By releasing the codes to the public the entire process would become much more transparent and allow for greater scrutiny of a car’s software which in turn would help spot hacks, government created or otherwise, before real harm could be done.

By turning to advancements in technology and trusting consumers to invest in their own protections the marketplace can effectively beat the government to protecting drivers.  Moreover, market-based advancements will be the only thing to protect drivers from government-sponsored snooping.

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