A Public Policy Roadmap for the Internet of Things

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We are at a key inflection point in the history of information technology (IT), representing the evolution of IT from a specialized tool into a pervasive influence on nearly every aspect of everyday life.  As the Internet further develops away from a computer-to-computer communication network, it is becoming a ubiquitous network linking electronic devices and everyday objects.  This development, often referred to as the “Internet of Things” (IoT), describes ubiquitous interconnectivity, where people don’t just interact with a wide range of objects and devices, but devices and objects also interact directly with each other.

Today, SIIA released a new report, Empowering the Internet of Things:  Benefits, Solutions and Recommendations for Policymakers, providing an in-depth look at the technological, social, and economic benefits and challenges facing the IoT.  It examines how data processing applied to the information flows from the IoT will make many sectors of the economy more efficient and productive, including energy, agriculture, manufacturing, and healthcare.  Estimates show that economic benefit from the IoT ranges from $4 trillion to $11 trillion from now through 2025. 

IoT technologies will minimize waste and enable data analysis on how best to manage these sectors.  In the energy and manufacturing sectors, they will provide information on the most effective ways to produce energy.  In the agricultural sector, sensors can allow for farmers to know when is the best time to harvest crops, care and monitor livestock, and maintain equipment.  In the healthcare sector, wearable technology provides the ability for doctors to monitor and care for their patients while the patients are at home.

Even government services will benefit from IoT technologies.  Real time analytics can can help governments overcome challenges that they face, ranging from policing to infrastructure management.  In fact, in September 2015, the Obama Administration announced that it would invest $160 million in a new smart cities initiative to manage city infrastructure and serve as a testing ground for emerging IoT technologies.

Perhaps the greatest opportunity for profound benefit from IoT technologies exist in the developing world.  As access to mobile technology grows dramatically in developing countries, citizens will have greater access to necessities they would not normally have access to, such as food, water, and healthcare and financial services. It is estimated that by 2025, approximately 38 percent of the annual growth of the IoT will come from the developing world.

Finally, the paper also issues a specific call to policymakers and regulators, providing a series of policy recommendations that will allow the full transformative benefits of the IoT to be realized. 
The report offers the following recommendations for policymakers seeking to enable the IoT to transform the way we work, learn, communicate and live our lives:

1.       Do not seek an overarching IoT Policy Framework. Existing laws have functioned effectively and provide substantial consumer protection, even in light of rapid technological innovation.

2.       Privacy rights for the IoT should be based on risk and societal benefits. Public policies must balance principles of privacy against societal values such as public health, national security, economic growth, and the environment.

3.       Encourage best practices for privacy and cybersecurity. In a dynamic technological environment, new regulations risk stifling burgeoning innovation – industry best practices and self-regulatory codes of conduct provide more flexibility to evolve and adapt over time.

4.       Promote technology neutrality and avoid technology mandates. These principles are especially important in the IoT’s complex ecosystem, which will be inherently subject to constant innovation.

5.       IoT standards should be open and industry-led. Open standards are critical to combining a wide range of data sets across myriad analytics environments and applications; attempts to dictate interoperability could reduce the marketplace to a standardized set of products and services.

6.       Policies for embedded software should provide for product integrity. Unrestricted ability to access and modify embedded software will threaten the reliability, safety and usability of IoT devices; product integrity is critical to the full development of the IoT’s potential.

Consumers, citizens, and society as a whole stand to benefit greatly from the IoT, and the examples listed above are but a few.  The exponential increase in the availability of data from the IoT and its innovative uses have the potential to improve health outcomes, streamline and enhance financial services, strengthen education and learning, and improve our physical infrastructure.  Different sectors of the economy will experience different levels of utility, but all will benefit greatly from IoT advances.

David David LeDuc is Senior Director, Public Policy at SIIA. He focuses on e-commerce, privacy, cyber security, cloud computing, open standards, e-government and information policy. Follow the SIIA public policy team on Twitter at @SIIAPolicy.