The accuracy of source code in millions of breathalysers units are being questioned in a US court. A driver charged with drunk driving has asked a judge to give him access to the breathalyser source code as it may contain bugs.
The driver along with 150 other drivers want to test the source code of the device that police used to prove their guilt. The Intoxilyzer 5000 breathalyser is used by various Australian police forces.
Lawyers for one of the drivers told the Judge in a Florida court that a breathalyser is in essence a computer that calculates whether a driver has blown a positive result. But who says that the computer is right? “As long as computer programmes have bugs, there is a chance that there could be a bug in the software that will cause my client to get wrongly convicted” he said. The case for access to the breathalyser will come before panel of Florida judges this Friday.
The breathalysers under review were first certified in 1993.The manufacturer, CMI (with the great URL: Alcoholtest.com) has since made changes to both the hardware and the software.
Layers for the accused claim that in once case the company shipped a device with a bug and had to recall it. The bug was rather obvious. The breathalyser takes two breath samples. If the results of those aren’t within a certain range, it will tell the officer to take a third sample. But in this case the application was challenging correct samples and didn’t challenge incorrect ones. So don’t say that the machine can’t have bugs said the lawyer.
Theoretically a judge could force CMI to open the application’s source code, but this is highly unlikely. The company, which refused to discuss the case, instead claims that the software code for the 25-year-old device is a trade secret. Never mind that the actually application is less than 24 kilobytes in size (yes, kB) and still runs on z80 processors that were introduced in 1976.
It seems that there are plenty of reasons for the defendants that justify taking a closer look at the source code for this device. And if previous rulings are any guideline, they have a pretty good chance that their request will be honoured.
If the request for access to the software is granted it could open a pandora’s box of problems where software for speed detection lasers, credit card transaction software, software with utility companies that calculates you monthly phone and gas bill would just be a few examples of what could come under review.