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Ambassador Sepulveda Urges Technology Industry to Ensure the Security and Interoperability of the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is “clearly a significant market,” according to Daniel Alejandro Sepulveda, Ambassador, Deputy Assistant Secretary and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy for the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs in the Department of State.  In Sepulveda’s keynote remarks at the Hogan Lovells Fifth Annual Winnik International Telecoms & Internet Forum, he addressed the State Department perspective on the Internet of Things, and the issues and challenges raised by the new technologies and use cases.

Sepulveda said the Internet of Things market is expected to grow to 24 billion connected devices by 2019, and explode to a four- to seven-trillion-dollar industry by 2025.  He outlined three key issues facing the industry as it develops: First, Internet of Things stakeholders must determine how best to use the extensive data generated by connected devices. Second, the industry must determine how to ensure interoperability across devices.  And third, the providers must determine how to protect the security and privacy of the users of connected devices.

According to Sepulveda, first responders and government could use the data generated by connected devices to the benefit of citizens.  For example, cities could pair data from air quality sensors with data from wearable and personal devices about citizen health to notify citizens with asthma or other vulnerabilities about air quality issues in real time.  First responders could also use flood maps paired with information about vulnerable populations to best target their resources and plan operations during natural disasters.

But ensuring the privacy of this sensitive data should also be a priority for the industry, Sepulveda said.  The “U.S. believes strongly and has a deep commitment in both law and practice to the idea that people should not be subject to arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy, consistent with our obligations under international human rights law,” he added.  The challenge will be balancing these obligations with ensuring the flow of data across devices.

Interoperability across devices will also be an important component of the successful development of the Internet of Things, according to Sepulveda.  He noted that government activities, such as proposals for regulations that mandate technologies or impose design or other restrictions, can generate friction on this front.  “But though government can regulate,” he said, “our office has often urged restraint in this space.”  He noted that his office urges other governments to take care with any regulation of the Internet to ensure the promotion of the public interest.  His office also works to make sure stakeholders in the Internet of Things have “meaningful” opportunities to engage with policymakers.

Sepulveda asked that the industry also remember that connected devices are part of a worldwide network.  He reminded the industry to be aware of the potential dangers of these new technologies.  He mentioned the recent distributed denial-of-service attack, which used connected devices to disrupt U.S. servers for websites including Spotify and The New York Times.

“It is important to remember that when talking about the Internet of Things and security, we are not just talking about the security of a handful of devices, but the entire Internet,” Sepulveda said.

Moving forward, he noted, the two main issues the State Department is working on that affect the Internet of Things are: 1) the development of Internet infrastructure both here in the U.S. and abroad, and 2) the privacy shield that the Department of Justice, Department of State, and others are working on to safeguard the transfer of data between the European Union and the U.S.

Sepulveda encouraged stakeholders to engage with his office on these issues, including at events they host throughout the year and at major world conferences, including the Consumer Electronics Show, the Mobile World Congress and the G7 and G20 meetings.