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EC asks how we would want the internet of things to be controlled

The European Commission has issued an online ‘consultation’ document: How would you envisage ‘governance’ of the ‘Internet of Things’?
The European Commission has issued an online ‘consultation’ document: How would you envisage ‘governance’ of the ‘Internet of Things’?

It’s a serious issue. The internet of things (IoT) will have all manner of devices communicating, often automatically and unknown to the ‘owner’, with the internet and the supplier. And, if CIA Director David Petraeus gets his way, with the CIA.

Wired reported last month that Petraeus is excited by the IoT. “Items of interest,” he said, referring to the things that will comprise the internet of things, “will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters – all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing, the latter now going to cloud computing, in many areas greater and greater supercomputing, and, ultimately, heading to quantum computing.” Or, as the Wired headline puts it: We’ll Spy on You Through Your Dishwasher.

The IoT clearly needs some serious governance. The purpose of the new EC consultation is to allow private EU citizens to express their opinions on this. The document comprises seven sections: privacy, safety & security, critical infrastructure security, ethics, identifiers and interoperability, governance, and standards. Each section is introduced with a brief discussion of the basic issues. For example, under ‘privacy’, “The information collected by identifiable smart objects... may also reveal information on individuals, their habits, location, interests and other personal information... [and] smart objects may exchange data automatically, potentially without involved humans being aware of it.”

So, continues the consultation in language that lawyers and psychologists might define as ‘leading’, “Bearing in mind that important benefits for society as a whole, such as in smart transportation systems, smart cities, pollution control, and sustainable consumption, are to be expected with IoT systems, it may be acceptable that data are used beyond the sole purpose of the application...” Do you agree or disagree?

Civil liberties groups are not yet active on the issue – but it is clear they will be. The problem for Europeans is threefold. Firstly, while the CIA is precluded from spying on its own citizens is it not so precluded – indeed, it’s what the CIA does – from spying on foreign citizens. Secondly, the EC has a track record of either not listening to, or actively ignoring, the wishes of its citizens (consider, for example, the signing of ACTA). And thirdly, the EC has a track record of complying with US wishes (consider the EU/US PNR agreement, and the UK/US extradition arrangements).

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