On the morning of Feb. 12, a collection of the auto industry's leading cybersecurity experts gathered at a sprawling FBI complex in Quantico, Va., to meet with an elite digital SWAT team called the Operational Technology Division.
Leaders of the division, which had famously pieced together cellphone videos to identify suspects in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, explained that they were interested in capturing connected-car data for investigations and outlined the requisite legal process, according to an agenda obtained by Automotive News.
The meeting, which included a tour of the Quantico complex, felt cordial and routine to people in attendance. It wasn't until a few days later -- when Apple Inc. publicly refused to help the FBI crack the password on an iPhone recovered from a shooter in the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorist attacks -- that the significance of the meeting began to sink in.
To some executives who attended the meeting in Quantico, the Apple-FBI standoff crystallized their understanding that data from connected cars, which hold huge value for the industry, could lead to conflict with law enforcement if not handled well.
By making private data available to law enforcement, instead of deleting it or masking personal information, automakers would run the risk of betraying customers' trust or inadvertently leaving a door open that hackers could exploit.
"I feel very uncomfortable with where we're at," said one industry official who attended the meeting in Quantico and asked not to be identified so as to speak openly. "There's a lot of pressure on the auto industry to do a better job with security. At the same time, we're being told by the government: "You guys are getting better at security, and that's messing us up.'"