A Dutch lab decrypted Tesla’s heavily guarded driving data storage system, which could be instrumental in investigating accidents

A white Tesla Model S is pictured at a Tesla facility in Littleton, Colorado.
A white Tesla Model S is pictured at a Tesla facility in Littleton, Colorado. David Zalubowski/AP
  • The Netherlands Forensic Institute said it decrypted Tesla’s heavily guarded data storage system.
  • The lab was able to obtain unknown information about Tesla’s Autopilot system, according to the report.
  • Tesla’s Autopilot feature has been criticized in the US by regulators and lawmakers for giving drivers a false sense of security behind the wheel.

A lab operated by the Dutch government said it has decrypted Tesla’s heavily guarded data storage system, which could be vital in investigating dangerous accidents.

According to a report released on Thursday, the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) discovered more data than investigators were previously aware of detailing Tesla’s vehicle operations and driver assistance systems, called Autopilot.

The NFI report unearthed unseen findings on vehicle speed, accelerator pedal position, steering wheel angle, and brake actuation. The findings provide “a wealth of information for forensic investigators and traffic accident analysts” and may help inform criminal investigations involving fatal accidents or injuries, according to Francis Hoogendijk, a digital investigator at the NFI.

“It would be good if this data would become available more often for forensic investigations,” Hoogendijk said in a statement. “Now that we know what kind of data can be obtained from a Tesla, certain data can be requested even more specifically for the purpose of finding the truth after an accident.”

According to the report, the NFI says it has successfully obtained information from Tesla models S, Y, X, and 3. By determining what data the cars store, NFI was able to figure out how the car’s registration system works, the report explains.

Tesla stores some data for over a year depending on the car’s usage. Although this information is heavily encrypted, the company does make it possible for owners to request their user data, including footage from vehicle cameras in the event of an accident, the NFI said.

Tesla also has the ability to request this data remotely, meaning the company can use the data to improve its product or fix malfunctions after accidents.

Tesla’s Autopilot feature has been criticized in the US by regulators and lawmakers who say the name makes drivers think the cars are autonomous when they aren’t. The technology has also been the subject of an investigation by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) after a number of Teslas using driver-assist Autopilot struck vehicles at first-responder scenes, Insider reported.

NFI’s report comes after Tesla outpaced Wall Street expectations on Wednesday, reporting 57% year-over-year revenue growth to reach $US13.8 ($AU19) billion in its third quarter, pushing shares to record highs on Friday and bringing Elon Musk’s net worth $US250 ($AU335) billion.

Tesla did not immediately respond to Insider’s request to comment on NFI’s discovery.

Hoogendijk said he is in favor of international legislation and regulations to make car manufacturers more transparent about which data is stored and how it’s monitored, according to NFI’s statement.

“My research ensures that we know what information is now present in Teslas. It was a time consuming process,” Hoogendijk said. “It would be good if it was made public by the car brands themselves in the future.”