Could the infamous “Breathalyzer” be faulty?
The source code behind a police breathalyzer widely used in multiple states — and millions of drunk driving arrests — is under fire. Could the “breathalyzer” be faulty? Have you been issued a Miami DUI because of a breathalyzer test?
It’s the latest case of technology and the real world colliding — one that revolves around source code, calibration of equipment, two researchers and legal maneuvering, state law enforcement agencies, and Draeger, the breathalyzer’s manufacturer.
This most recent skirmish began a decade ago when Washington state police sought to replace its aging fleet of breathalyzers. When the Washington police opened solicitations, the only bidder, Draeger, a German medical technology maker, won the contract to sell its flagship device, the Alcotest 9510, across the state.
But defense attorneys have long believed the breathalyzer is faulty.
Jason Lantz, a Washington-based defense lawyer, enlisted a software engineer and a security researcher to examine its source code. The two experts wrote in a preliminary report that they found flaws capable of producing incorrect breath test results. The defense hailed the results as a breakthrough, believing the findings could cast doubt on countless drunk-driving prosecutions.
The breathalyzer has become a staple in law enforcement, with more than a million Americans arrested each year for driving under the influence of alcohol — an offense known as a DUI. Drunk driving has its own economy: A multi-billion dollar business for lawyers, state governments, and the breathalyzer manufacturers — all of which have a commercial stake at play.
Yet, the case in Washington is only the latest in several legal battles where the breathalyzer has faced scrutiny about the technology used to secure convictions.
Concluding the nine-page report, the researchers say they are “skeptical” that the Alcotest 9510 can produce a reliable measurement of breath alcohol.
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