Bad breathalyzer code means countless DUI convictions are unsafe

Draeger's Alcotest 9510 breathalyzer [Amazon] is used widely by cops and has led to millions of drunk-driving arrests. For years its results have been suspect, and now researchers are elaborating upon its flaws: serious bugs in the code cause it to produce inflated blood-alcohol readings. Draeger used copyright law to try and stop folks talking about the cat writhing in the bag, but it eventually got out.

"Pursuant to a protective order, Draeger provided the source code to both of the defense experts in Snohomish County," said Marion Varec, a spokesperson for Draeger. "That source code is highly proprietary and it was important to Draeger that the protective order limit its use to the purposes of the litigation at issue." Draeger says it believes that one of the experts entrusted to examine the source code was using it in violation of the protective order, so Draeger sent the expert a cease and desist letter. Draeger says it "worked with the expert to resolve the issue."

Of the law firms we spoke to that were at the conference and received the report, none knew of Draeger's threat to launch legal action

Defense lawyyers clearly assumed for many years that behind the veil of intellectual property lay an unreliable crapgadget. What's amazing is not just the legal knots that result from trying to thread that understanding through copyright law, but the perverse incentive it created for police and prosecutors to prefer (and endlessly defend) a particularly low-quality model.