October 21, 2005 8:59 AM PDT

Police blotter: Closed-source breathalyzer on trial

"Police blotter" is a weekly report on the intersection of technology and the law. This episode: Should computers with secret methods of operation be used to convict Americans accused of drunk driving?

What: A dispute in Sarasota County, Fla., involving whether defendants accused of drunk driving should have the right to examine the innards of a portable "Intoxilyzer" computer used by police.

When: A hearing is scheduled before five county judges on Friday.

Who: Robert Harrison, an attorney in Venice, Fla., says he will ask the court to divulge the source code to the Intoxilyzer.

Background: The outcomes of hundreds of drunk-driving prosecutions in Florida are up in the air because of a dispute over whether defendants should be entitled to review the inner workings of the machines used to do breath tests.

Defense attorneys say their clients should have the right to inspect the source code to breathalyzers that were once certified for police use but subsequently changed without re-certification.

So far, Florida courts have split on the topic, some tossing out cases involving breath-alcohol tests and others concluding that the information about the machine's workings should remain a trade secret. The Intoxilyzer 500, a simple computer that uses 168KB of RAM, is manufactured by CMI of Owensboro, Ky.

The dispute could determine how much flexibility police departments have in modifying breathalyzers after they've been officially certified. But it's unlikely to produce any general requirement that source code be made available for public scrutiny.

An excerpt from one Florida appeals court's opinionaddressed manuals and schematics but not software source code: "When a person risks the loss of driving privileges or perhaps freedom based upon the use and operation of a particular machine, full information includes operating manuals, maintenance manuals and schematics in order to determine whether the machine actually used to determine the extent of a defendant's intoxication is the same unmodified model that was approved pursuant to statutory procedures. It seems to us that one should not have privileges and freedom jeopardized by the results of a mystical machine that is immune from discovery, that inhales breath samples and that produces a report specifying a degree of intoxication."

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it depends.....
every ones biology is deferent... I am not justifying that its ok to drive impaired.. but geeze.. ever seen a really old senior make everyone on the road upset? a person who has caused an accident and is repeat offender should need some intervention.. but by whom? a machine?

what about someone who has taken stimulants all their life? and some of these people can code while drinking a beer.. and most people cant even code sober...

but really, car economies require people to drive.. and unfair labor markets have high rates of alchol abuse.. and alchol is a reall lousy pain killer... oh, and lets not visit whether euphoric experiences are bad or should be banned... there are plenty of Divas running around the spas and eating 5-star meals... some prostitues make way more money than some really telanted and dedicated professionals.. yes, we really do reap what we soe

conservative values are ok.. their ideals.. but come on. put some glasses on.. share the wealth.. and how come you have to be a millionare to be a politician? its stolen money.. and short sited out-of-whack values... ground that charity
Posted by (187 comments )
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your're drunk
Please blow into the tube
Posted by R Me (196 comments )
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All machines need certification!!!!!!!!at all times!
All, machines, be it any type of breathalyzer(remember ketones generated by diabetics, are capable of giving false readings on all breathalyzers) or speed detection device( who said a static tree can't be clocked at 70 mph or more?) so regular certification certificate, should be a court mandated requirement. For as with any mechanical and electrical devices they can and will fail unpredictably! In a recent case in this state, an operator set the camera speed limit to 80Kph, in a 90Kph zone, the police reaction was a predictable, we don't make mistakes, ya gotta be kidding now get lost, we ain't gonna help you prove this case either ! Surprise, surprise all who entered that particular speed trap that day got a ticket for speeding that day and an amazing 98 % ended up paying the fine without a murmur! In another case a whole chain of speed cameras on a major freeway were all proved to be faulty, and gave false high readings, in one particlar case an elderly small 30 year old sedan clocked by independent authorities, at a maximum speed of 96Kph, was clocked on one of the faulty camera's as doing well over 176Kph. Oh well, such is life!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
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Agreed all machines must disclose, like VOTING machines too!!
trade secret vote counting software is being used now in a majority of US jurisdictions. Whether they're counting correctly or incorrectly in secrecy, it's wrong!
Posted by paullehto (2 comments )
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This is a BEDROCK Due Process requirement
Hard to understand how a person can be put away without the right to confront her accusers, whether the accuser is man or machine. Confrontation and cross examination requires information, of course! There's simply to reason to take on faith that the machine works, or to take the prosecution's witness on faith, either. Thank goodness the Constitution still lives.
Posted by paullehto (2 comments )
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