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Fact-Checking Arguments Over Massachusetts Ballot Question 1

A mechanic pouring oil into a vehicle.
File photo
MassLive / MassLive.com/photos

One of two statewide ballot questions in Massachusetts, Question 1, would expand how much vehicle diagnostic and repair information is available to independent repair shops and vehicle owners.

In a short debate on the ballot question, groups in support and opposition made their cases to voters.

We now turn to Matt Stout, Statehouse reporter with the Boston Globe, to fact-check those arguments.

Kari Njiiri, NEPM: Opponents of Question 1 say that a 2012 ballot question law already addresses telematics, therefore it's unnecessary. But supporters say that if it was covered in that law, they wouldn't be pushing it in this one. Are telematics included in the current law?

Matt Stout: In the current law, there is a section that specifically excludes telematics. It essentially says that “nothing in this chapter shall apply to telematics services or any other remote… service, diagnostic or otherwise.” So there is a whole section within the law that essentially carves out that telematics do not apply.

Major points of opponents of Question 1 involve privacy and security of individuals' personal information. Does it specifically include personal data like GPS?

It doesn't specifically include it. There's contention over language, as there always is, in a legal debate. The ballot question, as proposed, limits the data that would be made available or at least shared, as any data related to diagnostics, maintenance, repairs, etc. What opponents say is that clause "related to" is vague enough to open a door at some point to have someone argue that, “Well, there are other things that could be related to diagnostics — like, where has your car gone? — that could help me figure out what is wrong with your car.”

And that, they say, is sort of a window that could open this up to well beyond maintenance and repairs. That may be something, depending on if this passed, whether it's addressed by the legislature or even a court challenge, that might have to be decided in a legal setting.

We've seen those ads that warn of how predators and abusers could gain access to that information. And we've seen reports of other web-based systems being hacked. Will this expose drivers to more risk?

In talking with experts on cybersecurity and so forth, in general terms, any time you open more access to data — whether such as this through an open platform — yes, technically there could be more risk. But it also depends on how that platform is built and what security measures there are within it.

One of the things with that law is that even though it calls for the creation of [a platform], it doesn't dictate who or how it's set up, which creates uncertainty and which kind of creates this gray area for this narrative to thrive in.

One thing that a lot of people point out to me is that even if this doesn't pass, it doesn't mean these risks don't exist. There is information and data being transmitted from newer cars back to manufacturers, which, depending on how their security is on the manufacturer side or the other side, that there could be vulnerabilities there as well.

Those statements from domestic violence prevention groups warning about these kinds of laws: You did a fact-check on that. What did you find?

So within the actual ads where they cite that domestic violence...survivor advocacy groups oppose it, that's based on 2014 California legislation and comments made by a group in California opposing it. A major difference with the California legislation is that it explicitly included GPS and location data as part of the data that would be made shareable. That's not the case here in Massachusetts. And Jane Doe Inc., which is essentially the leading survivor advocacy group in the state, they initially filed testimony with legislators over bills that are very similar to the ballot question opposing it, sort of raising similar concerns.

But according to Jane Doe, their position has been "evolved." They're not taking a direct stance on the ballot question and to the point where they're uncomfortable with how the opponents of the ballot question are depicting the experience of a domestic violence survivor in its ad. So it's certainly not as clear-cut as perhaps you'll read in the [state-issued] voter guide or in the ads that — at least here in Massachusetts — that domestic violence survivor advocacy groups are lining up against the question.

Check out our short debate on Massachusetts ballot Question 1.

Kari Njiiri is a senior reporter and longtime host and producer of "Jazz Safari," a musical journey through the jazz world and beyond, broadcast Saturday nights on NEPM Radio. He's also the local host of NPR’s "All Things Considered."
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