Senators Call For Help Understanding IoT

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In-brief: A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators has openly asked for advice and counsel on the topic of understanding and securing the Internet of Things- a sign that the government is lagging in its awareness and response to the challenges posed by IoT.

A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators has openly asked for advice and counsel on the topic of understanding and securing the Internet of Things – a clarion call for more policy engagement on IoT within the D.C. beltway.

U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.), and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) sent a letter to U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro dated June 23rd, calling on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to “explore the challenges and opportunities surrounding the ‘Internet of Things.'”

“Given the growth in IoT as well as the way new technologies are being embedded in millions of everyday products, a more robust analysis of the challenges and opportunities associated with the IoT is needed,” the letter reads.

Among other things, the senators asked GAO to assess the impact of IoT on the economy and individuals, answering such questions as the current state of IoT technology adoption, the federal government’s experience using IoT and the “projected impact of ubiquitous IoT on consumer privacy and security.”

The GAO is an independent government watchdog agency that provides to the U.S. Congress with a range of services including audits, evaluations and investigative research. It is headed by the Comptroller General.

Despite the increasing prominence of the Internet of Things and its implications for everything from the security of critical infrastructure to personal safety, the GAO has had almost nothing to say on the topic of IoT to date. A search of the GAO website, for example, reveals just a single reference to the term “Internet of Things” in the agency’s five year Strategic Plan for Serving Congress and the Nation, which was issued in 2014. Even then, that 220 page document only referenced the IoT in passing, and did not propose any specific GAO work to look at the implications of IoT technology adoption.

In contrast, the agency has reported voluminously on technology issues more generally, from the failures of government procurement processes to IT projects gone awry to the government’s struggles with cyber security.

Senators Fischer, Ayotte, Booker, and Schatz were also behind a March “Internet of Things” resolution (S. Res. 110) that called for best practices around IoT and incentives to help keep the U.S. at the forefront of IoT innovation.

The federal government’s response to the Internet of Things has been spotty. Lawmakers have focused thus far on safety issues related to specific IoT use cases, like connected vehicles. In May, for example, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter to the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Mark Rosekind, asking for information on how that agency will address the security and safety risks posed by connected vehicles.

In February, Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey issued a report calling for new standards to plug security and privacy gaps in our cars and trucks. That report, called Tracking & Hacking: Security & Privacy Gaps Put American Drivers at Risk, aired on CBS News’ 60 Minutes news program and highlighted automakers responses to questions about the dangers posed by connected vehicle features in modern automobiles.

Beyond the privacy and security risks, however, the IoT promises to transform entire sectors of the economy – from healthcare to transportation and manufacturing. Technology advancements could be hugely beneficial to the U.S., allowing companies to produce and move goods more efficiently. However, they will also be hugely dislocating for workers, from truck drivers and garbage men to lawyers and home health aids.

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