Open Sourcing the Breathalyzer
Slashdot reports that Florida courts will hear arguments on the accuracy of breathalyzer results because the manufacturer of the devices refuses to release the source code to the devices.
Some judges have dismissed DUI cases because the defendant asked how the breathalyzer worked. The manufacturer was unwilling to release the source and the cases were dismissed.
The story contributer brings up an interesting point:
With software bugs being a fact of life, consumers and organizations could claim that they need to be able to verify an application's source code before they accept that their calculations are accurate. Think credit card transactions, speed detecting radar guns, electronic voting machines…
While I think that requiring open source for pretty much anything for these types of reasons is out of the question, there does need to be some balance between the right of the user to have solid software and the right of the manufacturer to protect their intellectual property. This balance exists for most products in competitive markets in the form of competition, but for monopolized markets (such as with breathalyzers), there does need to be some governmental or other third-party certification.
Much like a crime suspect could be required to submit to blood/DNA testing, products with suspected inaccuracies used to determine guilt should be required to submit to source code "testing." Since the source code will only be seen by the court, and the court has no economic motivation for using the source code outside of the bounds of the case at hand, the product's manufacturer should be able to rest assured that its source code is still protected.