Lawmaker fears self-driving trucks could be leveraged by ‘out-of-state actors’

Lawmaker fears self-driving trucks could be leveraged by ‘out-of-state actors’

A Democratic U.S. senator worried Wednesday that self-driving trucks could be leveraged by “out-of-state actors” looking to cause harm to Americans.

Sen. Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanDemocratic Homeland Security members request additional DHS nominee testimony Bipartisan group of lawmakers aim to reform US sugar program Trump transportation nominee comes under fire for sexual assault comments MORE (D-N.H.) made the comment at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday, signaling the need for federal regulations on autonomous vehicles to sufficiently address cybersecurity concerns. 

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“There is no doubt that automated vehicles have tremendous potential to save lives,” Hassan said. “But what is less clear to me and I think what you’re hearing some questions about is how we can guard against potential harms of this technology from in- and out-of-state actors who are looking to harm us.” 

“I am very concerned that we are all assuming that there are going to be levels of cybersecurity built into this technology when … we’ve seen in all various industry sectors that sometimes we think about cybersecurity after the harm is done,” Hassan continued. 

“Given the lives at stake and the potential of out-of-state actors who want to use vehicles now for a different purpose, I am very concerned that we get the cybersecurity right at the front end and not wait for something bad to happen,” she said. 

Lawmakers and witnesses expressed broad concerns over cyber threats to autonomous vehicles during the hearing.

Hassan seemed to echo earlier comments by a top Teamsters official who expressed fears that self-driving trucks could be hacked and leveraged in domestic attacks, harkening back to recent terrorist attacks in France and Spain.

“Unchecked, this new technology could open up our citizens to having their privacy breached and personal data sold,” said Ken Hall, general secretary-treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. “A truck driver will have to think about having his rig hacked and used as the next weapon in a Nice- or Barcelona-style attack.”

“It is terrifying to me to think that we’ve got tractor-trailers rolling down the road that can be hacked,” Hall said later. 

Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyCBS series 'Madam Secretary' exploring 'fake news' plot Senate Dems warn against cutting ObamaCare fund to pay for children's health program Trump’s North Korea strategy requires an intervention from Congress MORE (D-Mass.) underscored the need for “mandatory, robust protections that are built in as rules of the road going forward” that address cybersecurity of self-driving vehicles. 

“These vehicles are already obviously computers on wheels and they’re going to continue to accelerate in that direction as the technology deploys,” Markey said. “But obviously there are going to be vast opportunities for cyber threats to be launched against these vehicles.” 

The senators are grappling with whether to include automated trucks and large commercial vehicles in legislation establishing federal regulations for self-driving cars. 

Hall on Wednesday urged lawmakers to address large commercial vehicles separately, while other witnesses voiced the need for standards to cover both automated passenger vehicles and their larger counterparts. 

Senators are working to finalize legislation addressing driverless cars. Meanwhile, the House passed its own legislation last week that addresses cars only.