Senate Holds IoT Hearing

The Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation met to discuss how the U.S. Congress can foster the development and proliferation of IoT technologies in a way that neither harms consumer privacy nor stifles innovation.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Feb 12, 2015

Over the course of two and half hours on Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation convened with a panel of investors, technologists and end users of Internet of Things technologies, to discuss the emergence of such technologies in commercial and consumer applications, as well as their current and future impacts on data privacy and security.

A bipartisan group of committee members—Senators Kelly Ayotte, Cory Booker, Deb Fischer and Brian Schatz—called for the hearing late last year. The hearing is part of the group's efforts to draft a resolution about the government's role in encouraging the safe, secure development of IoT technologies, which it plans to present to Congress.

Left to right: Panelists Michael Abbott, Douglas Davis, Lance Donny, Adam Thierer and Justin Brookman
"I'm very concerned with government getting in the way of innovation," Senator Fischer told the assembled panel of experts, which included Michael Abbott, a general partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; Justin Brookman, the director of the Center for Democracy & Technology's Consumer Privacy Project; Douglas Davis, the VP and general manager of Intel's Internet of Things group; Lance Donny, the CEO of OnFarm, a technology provider to the agriculture industry; and Adam Thierer, a senior research fellow at George Mason University's Mercatus Center.

The committee and panelists discussed a wide range of topics, but the most prevalent question posed to panelists was whether they thought Congress could help foster the IoT while also ensuring the protection of consumer privacy—and, if so, how.

Thierer, consistent with his past writings and public appearances regarding the topic of the IoT, strongly advised that the senators allow existing regulations to serve as adequate protections of consumer privacy and data security. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), he noted, already has the power, under Section 5 of the FTC Act, to bring legal action against firms with business practices deemed unfair or deceptive to consumers. And referencing the "light touch" that the federal government took by not creating restrictive regulations around the development of the Internet, he recommended that the government be "responsive, not anticipatory" when it comes to the potential downsides of IoT technologies. "Policy should encourage best practices, not top-down controls," he said.

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