Right to repair bill targeting parts pairing passes Oregon House

The Oregon House this week passed a right to repair bill by nearly a 3-to-1 margin at 42 votes to 13. If signed into law, the northwestern state wouldn't be the first in the union to pass a right to repair bill (more like the fourth), but the legislation contains aggressive language that goes beyond those on the books. As a result, manufacturers are split.

Google gave the bill a full-throated endorsement back in January. An executive for the software giant called Oregon’s “a compelling model for other states to follow,” in an open letter.

Apple, which had previously penned an open letter in support of California’s legislation, has been less enthusiastic. It’s a stark contrast, particularly the similarities between the bills. In fact, Oregon based much of their legislation on the one penned by their neighbor to the south. The company insists that -- as with the California law -- it’s mostly in favor with Oregon’s approach.

“Apple agrees with the vast majority of Senate Bill 1596,” John Perry, Apple senior manager, Secure System Design, said in testimony to state lawmakers last month. “I have met with Senator [Janeen] Sollman several times and appreciate her willingness to engage in an open dialogue. Senate Bill 1596 is a step forward in making sure that the people of Oregon, myself included, can get their devices repaired easily and cost effectively.”

Apple’s big sticking point with the bill comes down to what is known as “parts pairing.” The practice requires the use of proprietary components in order for the repaired device to function as intended. Perry cited biometrics as a particular source of concern, noting:

Under SB 1596’s current parts pairing wording, Apple could be required to allow third-party biometric sensors to work in our devices without any form of authentication, which could lead to unauthorized access to an individual’s personal data. This would be an incredible disservice to consumers not just in Oregon, but worldwide, as we do not have the ability to restrict such provisions regionally.

The practice has, however, long been a cause of concern among repair advocates. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) has petitioned the FTC for a ban of what it calls “one of the most pernicious obstacles to right to repair.”

OPIRG state director Charlie Fisher adds, "I’m proud that we’re moving forward on an innovation even more critical than a new gadget: the right to fix our electronic devices. By eliminating manufacturer restrictions, the Right to Repair will make it easier for Oregonians to keep their personal electronics running. That will conserve precious natural resources and prevent waste. It’s a refreshing alternative to a ‘throwaway’ system that treats everything as disposable.”

In an interview with TechCrunch last month, Senator Sollman expressed frustration over attempts to communicate with Apple during the bill-crafting process.

“People were coming to me with potential changes, and I felt like I was playing the game of operator, like I was being the one that was having to bring forward the changes, and not Apple themselves,” she told TechCrunch. “That’s very frustrating. We entertained many of the changes that Apple brought forward that are in the California bill. There were two remaining items that were concerning to them. We’ve addressed one of them, because that was providing some ambiguity to the bill. And so I think the one part that . . . they will stand on the hill on is the parts pairing.”

The bill has received bipartisan support in both the state Senate and House. It is currently headed to the governor’s desk, where it may be signed into law.