Internet of Things: Is Congress Too Focused on Privacy Risks?

That's the argument one Washington think tank is making. In a new report, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation lays out a set of guidelines to help frame the connected-device debate. A key one: Don't regulate the sector based on hypothetical problems.

The internet of things is a messy sector right now.

Between myriad competing “standards”, high levels of hype, and a risk that a pending industry shift could lead to culture clashes, the connected-device space is defined as much by what isn’t set in stone as by what is.

Congress and other legislative bodies can help define the edges, but according to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation’s Center for Data Innovation, there’s a lot of risk that they might choose the wrong path. In its “10 Policy Principles for Unlocking the Potential of the Internet of Things” [PDF], authors Daniel Castro and Joshua New say many policymakers’ current approaches—from doing nothing to preemptively regulating the space to favoring domestic innovation over other countries’ efforts—are equally problematic.

Most hypothetical concerns are likely to never become realities if factors such as market forces, cultural norms, and new technologies intervene.

Instead, the authors recommend that legislators become “technology champions” to help drive the space forward.

“Some policymakers have taken a proactive role in accelerating the development and deployment of the internet of things, such as by funding research on sensor networks, creating pilot projects for smart cities, preventing over-regulation of wearable health technologies, and providing incentives for smart grid deployment,” the authors write in a summary. “These policymakers see government as a critical partner in promoting the benefits that come from using these technologies.”

The report lays out several principles that legislators should use to define policy, including:

Chart a course for adoption: Policymakers around the world should set a road map to help guide the technology’s future in their countries. A good starting point for this is to embrace the technology itself.

Keep the barriers low: “A lengthy and cumbersome regulatory review process that increases the time to market for smart devices can discourage entrepreneurs from developing new and potentially lifesaving products.”

Encourage sharing: When it comes to data, the internet of things works best when devices talk to one another. Strategies that encourage individuals and the private sector to share information should be adopted.

Keep regulations narrow: Legislators should avoid the what-ifs and instead focus on creating focused regulations that solve actual issues as they surface in the market. “Most hypothetical concerns are likely to never become realities if factors such as market forces, cultural norms, and new technologies intervene,” the authors note.

In an op-ed for the Christian Science Monitor, Castro and New write that a perfect parallel to their argument comes from the internet itself, which benefited from fairly light but innovation-focused regulations.

“The success of the internet today can be credited in part to policymakers actively taking a role to ensure its growth,” they write, “and this same approach should to be applied to build the internet of things.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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