Do we really need to regulate the Internet of Things?
The regulation of Spectrum in South Africa is a hot topic for the telecommunications market, but one fundamental component that people don’t often think about is its biggest benefactor: the Internet of Things.
The IoT, as it is abbreviated, is the catch-all phrase for how the world is moving forward in terms of technology. It can be best described as the act of all devices connecting to the internet and reporting data to a central nerve system.
Think smart sensors, wearables and internet-connected cars – that sort of thing.
During Telkom’s annual SATNAC conference, the debate of whether or not IoT needs to be regulated sparked more questions than answers, and as it turns out, nobody is really sure what to make of it.
One person that does seems to know where he stands on the matter is Siyabonga Mahlangu, group executive for Telkom.
He explained that the question of IoT regulation isn’t a new issue, but simply old problems that needed to catch up to today’s technology.
Just think: one day not too far from now all the appliance in your kitchen will be connected to the internet. While it may sound exciting or even trivial, one has to ponder about the security issues attached to that.
“What kind of data is being moved around? What are the privacy issues in IoT, and what equipment will be used?” asked Mahlangu.
For him, the regulation of IoT comes with some pitfalls, and something needs to happen in South Africa before we have a need for regulation.
“We can’t wake up regulate – there has to be a need to regulate. That is exactly why we need a debate on whether to regulate IoT or not. That is the way that Europe went.”
By analysts estimate over 50 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020, and that is a lot of data being transmitted everyday. With so much info flowing around the internet, the issue of privacy (and cybercrime) is sure the rear its head.
South Africa is in the process of implementing cybercrime laws, but will these laws include IoT? That is the point that Mahlangu wanted to make.
“Are we safe as a nation? Are we safe as corporates? Some IoT vulnerabilities will lead to not so nice consequences. People can manipulate connected cars, so can you imagine if somebody gets in there?”
As expected, he highlights that there has been a lot of discussions on how to deal with ordinary cybercrime in the country, but cautioned that there needs to be equilibrium in legislation.
“The balance is that you don’t want a heavy arm of the state on your private (virtual) realm. My take is that regulation or law and policy is how life evolves. It is the interface between tech and life where new rules are written.”
What he means with that, is that laws and regulations need to adapt with the changing of the times. So in an essence people don’t know how to deal with the regulation of IoT simply because we have never been in this position.
The same goes for cybercrime laws. Yes, cybercrime has been with us since the dawn of the internet, but as the technology evolves, the laws of the country need to evolve as well.
Tacking on to the cybercrime issues and having your car hacked, Mahlangu ponders questions about our personal information, in the form of the Protection of Personal Information (PoPI) act.
The act requires all businesses and corporations to store personal data in a certain manner, but it also dictates the destructions and moving thereof.
“Is PoPI sufficient enough to deal with info that will cross-cross between institutions? How is that going to change in the new era? Are we going to get more worried as consumers?” he asked.
He might not have the all right answers to problems posed, but he knows how we need to go about solving some of them. The key here is to think like a consumer. Once you do that, you should be able to fairly easily see where the problem areas are going to be.
He explains that corporations need to plan and project for Research and Development, which should also include elements of efficient businesses planning.
“With IoT, we will experience heightened innovation, with a lot of gadgets and new ways to do things. From that, we will know what new standards need to put in place to deal with these matters.”
One can’t mention IoT without talking about the big data that will be generated. Here, Mahlangu adds, the dreaded regulation of spectrum comes into play.
“We will need a lot (of spectrum) to be able to see big data booming in the manner we want. We need to make sure that it is available in long and short ranges.”
In closing, he cautioned that the regulation of spectrum needs to be done in the best way possible that will be to the benefit of everybody.
“Spectrum is a natural, national and finite resource – it has to be used for the benefit of everybody. When talking about regulation, you have to work on it in a way that balances the promotion of investment and also balance with the competition that will drive prices down that will run over the spectrum.”[Image – Charlie Fripp]