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by Rebecca Hill and Jenni Davidson
21 October 2016
One-size-fits-all approach to internet of things regulation might be inappropriate

One-size-fits-all approach to internet of things regulation might be inappropriate

Internet of things - Image credit: Pixabay

A one-size-fits-all approach may not be appropriate for regulating personal data governance in internet of things, an academic from a leading research group has said.

Various sector-specific rules, such as health regulations add “layers of complexity” to any regulatory landscape, according to Irina Brass, a researcher at University College London’s PETRAS IoT research hub.

She said more detailed analysis of the current regulatory landscape was needed before prescribing, standardised processes.

Brass was responding to a recent report from research organisation RAND, which looked at how to use policy to support increased use of the IoT.

The RAND report examined IoT take-up across sectors and identified a number of opportunities and challenges, such as working to increase trust in the security and processes involved with IoT.

It said that there were “mixed perceptions” among IoT innovators of the ability public policy has to accelerate the market, and urged public bodies to consider themselves as strategic purchasers of new technologies.

Brass told Holyrood’s sister website PublicTechnology.net that the review offered a valuable assessment of the challenges of IoT for public service delivery.

However, she said that there was more work to be done on the regulatory side, especially when considering one of the report’s statements that “clear, unambiguous and standardised processes for personal data governance” should be a prerequisite for linking up systems, and making them interoperable and trustworthy.

“There is the need for a more detailed analysis of the current regulatory landscape in which IoT is emerging before prescribing, for instance, clear, unambiguous and standardised processes for personal data governance,” Brass said.

She added her group’s research showed that IoT was emerging in a complex regulatory landscape made up of different rules for governing electronic communications, competition, data protection, security and risk management.

On top of this, there are sector-specific rules, such as those around healthcare, to deal with.

“Consequently, a one-size-fits-all approach might be premature at this stage and altogether inappropriate,” Brass said.

It could be difficult to apply existing data and privacy protection guidelines such as ‘privacy-by-design’ or ‘security-by-design’ uniformly across an IoT system, for example, she said.

Brass noted that increased security specifications could have major implications on the battery life or affordability of sensors – which are only small units of an IoT system.

But, at the same time, vulnerabilities at this unit level could transfer risks across larger parts of the system.

“Consider, also, the costs of regular risk assessments that users of IoT systems have to factor into their business decision-making,” she said.

“It is essential to understand these trade-offs, which derive from the complexity and heterogeneity of the IoT ecosystem, before we can confidently proceed with policy prescriptions.”

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