A Big Year for Right to Repair (and SecuRepairs)

With the new year upon us, I wanted to write to update you all on on our doings in 2020 and what’s coming up in 2021. Here’s a rundown of what’s in this update. Feel free to jump around: 

More Ways to Keep up with the Fight for the Right to Repair

First up, if you are looking to follow the right to repair issue more closely, we now have a daily newsletter: the Fight to Repair Daily, which brings you the latest right to repair news from around the world (M-F). Later this month, I’m also launching a weekly right to repair newsletter (Fight to Repair Weekly) that will offer some original reporting, news analysis and opinion. Go ahead and sign up if you haven’t already. 

Also, we’re on social media. You can join our Facebook group and follow SecuRepairs on Twitter or on LinkedIn. 

More members. Also: want to represent SecuRepairs in your state? 

Our membership continued growing throughout 2020. SecuRepairs now counts more than 200 members, with more than 120 public supporters. Welcome to all our new members! Currently, you are all listed as SecuRepairs supporters. For 2021, we are also looking for members who are willing to step up and be state-level contacts for SecuRepairs. This will be particularly important as state-level right to repair laws begin moving forward, with hearings and other opportunities for SecuRepairs to be a voice of reason on the issue of repair and cyber security. If you’re interested, email me at paul (at) securepair (dot) org to get the ball rolling.

Tarah’s Testimony Goes Viral

The year started off strong with a great example of SecuRepairs value to the right to repair debate when SecuRepairs own Tarah Wheeler testified on behalf of a Washington State right to repair bill in January. Her testimony, debunking the false cyber security claims of tech industry lobbyists, was picked up by repair luminary Louis Rossman and recirculated on his YouTube channel where it racked up more than 400,000 views. 

Money quote from Tara’s testimony “As a cyber security expert, I can tell you that if taking your iPhone apart represents a threat to the safety and security of communications in this country, we should be talking in an underground situation room and not on public access television in the 13th most populous state in the country.” 

A Seat at the Table

In recognition of the work SecuRepairs has done to rally the cybersecurity community in support of right to repair, I was asked to join the board of the Repair Coalition, the nation’s leading pro-repair advocacy group. This gives our group a seat at the table, helping to coordinate right to repair advocacy across the company and making sure that our IT and infosec experts are available when and where they’re needed to be voices of reason in the debate over a digital right to repair. 

Success in Massachusetts

The right to repair got a big boost in November, when voters in Massachusetts overwhelmingly approved Question 1, a ballot measure that expanded the state’s automobile right to repair law to give vehicle owners and independent repair professionals access to repair data transmitted via wireless telematics systems. The measure passed by a huge margin – with more than 70% of voters supporting the measure. SecuRepairs was vocal in support of the measure, as opponents sought to use fears of cyberstalking and haking to try to defeat the measure. 

SecuRepairs members signed a September op-ed in the Boston Herald making the case for the expanded right to repair and decrying auto industry scare tactics. That editorial ended up informing The Herald’s own endorsement of Question 1.  We also had an op-ed featured on WBUR’s Cognoscenti about Question 1. Further, SecuRepairs was quoted in articles about the auto right to repair by VICE, in Wired as well as The Boston Globe and in local TV segments on the ballot measure on WCVB. 

Though successful, the Massachusetts right to repair ballot measure is being challenged in court as automakers argue that federal laws preempt the ballot measure’s mandates. SecuRepairs will continue to offer our expert advice on issues related to cybersecurity come to the fore. 

Medical Device Repair Woes Get A Federal Right to Repair Law Introduced

While COVID derailed efforts in state legislatures, it did provide an opportunity to spotlight how barriers to repair can have real world consequences. Specifically: medical device OEM restrictions on repair hampered efforts by hospitals to repair and maintain respirators during the first wave of the pandemic in April and May. As this article in Slate notes: OEM restrictions that force hospitals to use authorized repair technicians caused delays when those few technicians came down with COVID. Research by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund found that almost one-third of biomedical repair technicians said some equipment at their facilities could not be used because repairs were unavailable.

There were two big “wins” resulting from that. First, Kyle Wiens at iFixit marshalled an army of idled librarians and other pro-repair volunteers to build a massive, online database of medical device repair manuals, including manuals for many respirators and ventilators.This was information that previously was jealously guarded or paywalled by OEMs or shared in the shadows by medical device technicians. Another silver lining to the COVID crisis: Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Yvette D. Clark in September introduced the first ever federal right to repair legislation in the Senate and the House that would make it easier for hospitals to fix medical equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Critical Medical Infrastructure Right-to-Repair Act of 2020 would protect owners from prosecution if they made a copy of service parts or broke a digital lock while repairing equipment, allow users to make their own substitute parts, and require manufacturers to provide owners access to information and tools to repair equipment. 

The EU embraces repair

The European Union led the way in the charge to enshrine a legal right to repair in 2020. Specifically: the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly on November 25 to direct the EU Commission to “develop and introduce mandatory labelling, to provide clear, immediately visible and easy-to-understand information to consumers on the estimated lifetime and reparability of a product at the time of purchase.” 

Another big victory in Europe: France instituted one of the first pro-consumer repair measures: a repairability index for new products. Starting in 2021, electronic devices sold in that country will have a repairability score to “inform the consumer about the possibility to repair a product.” This is a first of its kind in the world, and a model the EU is looking to embrace more broadly. 

Movement in dozens of states in 2021

2020 started off strong with right to repair measures showing promise in a number of states. In Massachusetts, a joint committee voted in favor of two bills to create a digital right to repair – potentially setting up a floor vote (something that’s never happened). Then COVID happened and all non pandemic related business before state legislatures – unsurprisingly – was shelved, right to repair included. 

For 2021, we’re hopeful that a slow return to normalcy will clear the way to right to repair measures moving back to the front burner and anticipate close to two dozen states will see digital right to repair laws. SecuRepairs will be a critical voice in this fight as industry lobbyists and trade groups seek to muddy the water with specious claims of cyber security and privacy risks resulting from expanded access to repair data, tools and parts. 

Get involved. Spread the word. Do your part. 

This is the calm before the storm. As winter turns to Spring, the battle to win a legal right to repair our digital devices will be heating up in more than 20 state capitols as well as in Washington D.C. SecuRepairs is looking for members who are willing to testify at hearings (virtually or in person), write or co-sign opinion pieces, send emails and encourage their peers and colleagues to join the fight. Your support of SecuRepairs contributes to that effort. If one of your New Year’s Resolutions is to get more involved and this is a fight you want to play a bigger part in: we need you. Shoot an email to paul(at)securepair(dot)org  and let me know how you’d like to be involved. We need your support now more than ever! 

Thanks again for all your support in 2020. Here’s looking forward to a great 2021!