The Internet of Things is getting its own congressional caucus.
Created by Sens. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., the Congressional Caucus on the Internet of Things aims to educate members of Congress on the developing uses and potential worries associated with the growing number of devices and systems that link to one another and the Internet. Some researchers claim nearly 5 billion devices will be interconnected by 2020.
Issa and DelBene expect the Internet of Things — what many in the scientific community refer to as cyber-physical systems — to be a hot topic in coming years as gadgets connected to the Internet flood the market and the policy issues surrounding their collection of consumer data build.
“Technology is revolutionizing the way consumers use cars, homes, workspaces, and everyday items. Emerging uses of Internet connectivity to these devices raise both opportunities and questions about regulatory policy, spectrum space, privacy, and more,” Issa said in a statement. “It’s critical that lawmakers remain educated about the fast paced evolution of the Internet of Things, and have informed policy discussions about the government’s role in access and use of these devices. I am excited to co-chair the IoT Caucus and ensure federal policy spurs, rather than stifles, our innovation economy.”
The Federal Trade Commission, which is developing a report on the emergence of IoT, is a bit more concerned about the technology and its potential to put consumers at risk. FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez told a crowd at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Jan. 6 that with the Internet of Things’ perceived benefits, there are “immense privacy risks,” like the ubiquitous collection of consumer data, unexpected uses of that data and security issues.
“The introduction of sensors and devices into currently intimate spaces – like our homes, cars, and even our bodies – poses particular challenges and increases the sensitivity of the data that is being collected. Connected devices are effectively allowing companies to digitally monitor our otherwise private activities,” Ramirez said. “Will the data be used solely to provide services to consumers? Or will the information flowing in from our smart cars, smart devices, and smart cities just swell the ocean of ‘big data,’ which could allow information to be used in ways that are inconsistent with consumers’ expectations or relationship with a company?”
The Congressional Caucus on the Internet of Things will try to encourage conversations like that within Congress. DelBene said it’s important that policy doesn’t fall behind the development of the technology.
“As someone with a long career in the technology industry and as an entrepreneur, I know firsthand how quickly technologies have developed to become critical to our daily lives,” DelBene said. “Policymakers will need to be engaged and educated on how we can best protect consumers while also enabling these new technologies to thrive. It’s important that our laws keep up with technology and I look forward to co-chairing the IoT caucus.”