IoT standards cannot be left to the market: US Department of Commerce

Following the reintroduction of the DIGIT Act, the US Department of Commerce has published a report advising how to approach the creation of a national IoT strategy.

A long-term national strategy needs to be formulated by the United States government, along with consulting the private sector, to facilitate the advancement of the Internet of Things (IoT), and minimise chances of privacy and security-related harm, the US Department of Commerce has said in a report on Thursday.

The Fostering the Advancement of the Internet of Things report said the government can facilitate the IoT by enabling equitable access to telecommunications infrastructure, ensuring technical standards are developed to support global IoT interoperability, and encouraging the uptake of IoT in both public and private sectors.

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The department said that government should enforce a "predictable, minimalist, consistent, and simple legal environment for commerce" and avoid over-regulation.

"The United States will not successfully capture these benefits by leaving development of the Internet of Things solely up to the market, just as no government actions could capture all of the potential benefits without a robust private sector that can innovate unencumbered by overly restrictive regulations," said the Center for Digital Innovation, as cited in the report.

The report recommends policies be developed as a collaborative effort between government, civil society, academia, the technical community, and the private sector, both globally and domestically, with areas such as cybersecurity and privacy considered particularly important.

"The highly networked nature of IoT creates a large number of attack surfaces that can be exploited; some IoT device makers have not followed established cybersecurity best practices used in other information security contexts; and some connected devices will collect vast amounts of personal information, enabling high impact attacks," the report states.

The release of the report follows the reintroduction of the Developing Innovation and Growing the Internet of Things (DIGIT) Act by the bipartisan congressional Internet of Things working group comprising senators Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). The Act was first introduced in March 2016 and called for a national strategy around IoT. The bill directs the Secretary of Commerce to convene a working group of federal stakeholders to advise Congress on how to plan and encourage IoT, including infrastructural needs and the appropriate regulatory environment for things like consumer privacy and security.

The US Federal Communications Commission, in consultation with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, will have to conduct a study to evaluate, for example, what spectrum will be necessary to support the growth of internet-connected devices, including whether there is adequate licensed and unlicensed spectrum available, and what regulatory barriers might be hindering IoT innovation.

"The findings of this working group will provide policymakers with the necessary framework to craft a national strategy for the Internet of Things, which would ensure the technology develops cohesively and rapidly, that consumers and businesses do not face barriers to adoption, and that the public and private sectors can take full advantage of the opportunities the Internet of Things can create," said Daniel Castro, director of the Center for Data Innovation, a data policy think tank. "If the United States gets its national strategy right, there is simply no telling the scope of the benefits it can provide."

The need for a national IoT strategy was also highlighted in a report by Australian industry body Communications Alliance back in 2015. The report's co-author, Frank Zeichner, said that national IoT strategies and policies were more advanced in many of Australia's peer and customer countries such as China, Germany, and the UK. Little has progressed since.

Meanwhile in December, the Brazilian government advanced its IoT plan by signing a deal with the national development bank to carry out a study on opportunities around IoT, the result of which will be used as the foundation of a national IoT plan that's expected to launch in the second half of 2017.

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