By Ani Gevorkian

The Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on Tuesday entitled, “The Internet of Things: Exploring the Next Technology Frontier.” The hearing focused on the promises Internet of Things (“IoT”) technology holds, and what role Congress should play in addresses the challenges IoT presents, both with regard to privacy and data security concerns as well as technological concerns.

Panelists included Daniel Castro, Vice President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation; Brian van Harlingen, Chief Technology Officer of Belkin International, Inc.;  Rose Schooler, Vice President of the IoT Group and GM of the IoT Strategy and Technology Office of Intel Corporation; and, Brad Morehead, CEO of LiveWatch Security, LLC.

The hearing followed a showcase the Subcommittee hosted that featured Internet-connected products manufactured in members’ districts.  Subcommittee members began the hearing by discussing the benefits IoT technology promises to deliver to consumers and businesses and by highlighting in particular the work of the panelists’ companies.

Subcommittee Chairman Michael C. Burgess (R-TX) began the questioning by asking what the appropriate role of Congress is in helping the development of IoT.  The panelists unanimously agreed that Congress should generally proceed with a light regulatory touch to avoid stifling innovation.  More specifically, Morehead and Schooler identified the importance of having Congress encourage open standards and interoperability, while Castro and Schooler emphasized the importance of  having a national IoT plan.

Both Subcommittee members and panelists recognized the importance of addressing the privacy and data security issues that IoT growth presents.  During his opening remarks, Chairman Burgess stated that the consumer impact of the IoT market should be a key focus of discussion, and noted that while consumers are benefitting from these technologies, attention must also be given to appropriate consumer protections for privacy and security.  Congressman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) echoed Burgess’s statements, noting that privacy is “top of mind” and that privacy and data security issues deserve a great deal of attention.  And Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) illustrated the importance of protecting consumer privacy by listing privacy-invasive ways data from an individual’s fitness bracelet could be used.  He noted that consumers can have more confidence in companies’ products if companies build privacy protections into those products.

The panelists acknowledged these considerations but refrained from encouraging robust Congressional action in response to privacy concerns.  Castro, in particular, suggested that policymakers should be extremely cautious about passing laws on the basis of speculative concerns that might not come to pass when doing so might curtail substantial economic and societal benefits.  He suggested market forces, cultural norms, and new technologies can address privacy concerns instead.  He also suggested that for areas of high concerns, such as health-related data, solutions could focus on use-based restrictions, rather than on restrictions preventing collection of data in the first instance.

Along somewhat similar lines, Schooler suggested that policy makers should address concerns about privacy based on particular use cases, and not through the implementation of a broad blanket policy.  Morehead predicted that, given the wide variety of IoT devices and services that will develop, multiple privacy models will exist:  some will involve more restricted collection and use of data but more expensive hardware and software, while others will offer cheaper hardware and software but make more public use of data.

All panelists agreed, however, about the importance of Congressional action in the data security space.  Castro stated that data breach concerns are the primary issues Congress should address in the IoT context, and van Harlingen noted that consistency around data breach rules would be helpful to industry and consumers.  Schooler stressed that companies should consider security at the outset of any IoT-related processes and that security redundancies are valuable:  security should be built into the device, the network, as well as the cloud.

The hearing also focused on the importance of addressing certain technological concerns to ensure the successful growth of IoT.  Specifically, Subcommittee members and panelists addressed the need to make efficient use of spectrum to support IoT products and services.  Congressman Leonard Lance (R-NJ), noted that spectrum is one of the engines that will “drive the IoT revolution” and asked what the panelists thought Congress should do to provide necessary spectrum.  Castro suggested it would be useful to look for commercial spectrum availability in both licensed and unlicensed bands.  Van Harlingen agreed and added that Congress should also collaborate in detail with industry on what spectrum needs are.  Schooler, too, suggested that policymakers should leverage both licensed and unlicensed spectrum, and Morehead added that Congress should consider backward compatibility and when and how wireless systems sunset.