Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (WA-1) spoke with WashingtonExec as a leader of the Congressional Caucus on the Internet of Things (IoT) about her goals for the initiative, why digital information policies should be updated to today’s technology capabilities, and the importance of educating citizens on the security and privacy expectations of consumer technologies.
We also asked Congresswoman DelBene what she considers an IoT device and how she thinks those in the federal contracting space can best help the public sector integrate IoT applications onto secure networks.
WashingtonExec: What made you want to first, form the Congressional Caucus on the Internet of Things (IoT) and second, lead the Caucus?
Congresswoman Suzan DelBene: The goal of the caucus is to educate policy makers on all the new types of technologies and innovations that are happening within this space, which is collectively known as “The Internet of Things”. The Internet of Things is about all of these connected devices that have been coming into the market doing a variety of things – from your car being connected to your refrigerator or a crock pot to the thermostat in your home. To highlight the opportunities, the challenges, some of the concerns that might be in place when we talk about connected devices and access and data and really to get policy makers up to speed on these issues. If they are putting policy together looking towards the future, we can make sure it makes sense not only in the way things work today but also having a good eye as to where things might be headed.
WashingtonExec: How would you describe the Internet of Things in your own words? What does the “Internet of Everything” mean to you?
Congresswoman Suzan DelBene: What it really means is that we have devices connecting different types of areas from wristbands with simple sensors, to the integration of censors in a car. Technology has moved beyond what you think of as a computer or tablet or even your phone to all sorts of different devices that are connected that allow information to be shared or even accessed. All of these different types of information from industrial uses to consumer uses are collectively thought of as the Internet of Things – this growth in connected devices. It is a large category, it is a broad category but it is really to help make sure that we are looking at all of the uses of technology and connected technology beyond what we have traditionally thought of as computers and servers or even more recently mobile devices.
WashingtonExec: How do you plan to work towards keeping private citizen data secure? How do you and your colleagues regulate this new industry?
Congresswoman Suzan DelBene: I think we are just starting the beginning of the conversation because part of it is making sure people have a good sense of what’s happening out there today. A lot of policy is woefully out of date. We haven’t been good stewards of policy in terms of keeping policy up to date with technology. We’re starting from behind in many cases. One example is electronic communications privacy. There is the Electronics Communications Privacy Act; otherwise affectionately known as ECPA. It was written in 1986, back when email was something people didn’t use very often and when they did it was usually between people on the inside of individual companies or organizations. Now we have a situation where people are using email and electronic communications in a variety of ways globally and yet a piece of paper in your file cabinet – law enforcement would require a warrant to get access to that information yet that same document in digital form, if you have that in the cloud or if you have that in email over 180 days old, there is no longer a warrant required to access that information.
There is a pretty clear cut case where we have digital information and physical information in terms of how privacy rights are looked at. We need to make sure we update that law, which was written in 1986. I started working at Microsoft in 1989 on email and a lot has changed between then and now and we need to make sure our laws are up to date. With the Internet of Things, we not only need to keep laws up to date but we need to be future looking to be sure we have policy that makes sense going forward. We need to continue to maintain and keep policy up to date beyond that.
WashingtonExec: Do you use any personal devices that you considered an IoT technology?
Congresswoman Suzan DelBene: It is interesting to see how people have taken devices – whether it is a Fit Bit or like the Microsoft Band (like I have), or Garmin Bands or even the Apple watch, there are all different kinds of those. Now you hear people talking about how many steps they have done, people competing with each other in the workplace and within a family. That’s one small piece of technology that has already had an incredible impact, not only on how people perceive these devices, but also on how people interact and plan their day. We are going to see a lot more change going forward but again, we’ve got to make sure we do a good job not only policy-wise but also in educating consumers. We are seeing the best parts of these innovations and also doing our best to address concerns on things like security and privacy.
Healthcare is another area where we are going to see a lot of opportunities in different types of devices as well – so across the board. I’m a runner so I’ve always had a running watch with a GPS on it so it’s been great to see the incredible advances. I can see my run. I can get a map that shows me where I ran and at the different segments of the run how fast I ran and where. It can tell me my heartrate. It’s pretty amazing what folks can do today and I can only imagine the innovation going forward.
WashingtonExec: Many federal contractor executives read our publication. What recommendations do you have on how they can get their employees and businesses ahead of the inevitable integration of IoT technologies?
Congresswoman Suzan DelBene: I think one thing is to make sure we focus on all types of technologies. First of all think of technology as core infrastructure to an organization because if technology is out of date or behind it is vulnerable to many more security threats and reliability issues. Sometimes we think of technology as this thing that is nice to have, as opposed to part of infrastructure. More and more it is becoming a core piece of infrastructure and that is why I think businesses need to look at it that way, especially if they have consumer data they are protecting or other pieces of information that is necessary – we talked about the grid and it’s critically important in innovations and with the government as well.
As we have new opportunities with other types of devices that might help efficiency of operations or have access to data that might otherwise not be available or be hard to obtain – again we need to make sure we are good stewards of that information, that it is protected, that it is up to date on issues of security and privacy. That’s not a static thing. That is something that folks need to be on top of and looking at every day. While there are great opportunities here, it is also important that people think about how new devices and types of data are going to be used and protected in a secure way in an organization.
WashingtonExec: Is there anything else you would like to talk about today?
Congresswoman Suzan DelBene: I think we covered a lot of it. We’ve seen incredible change and I think we are going to see even more change going forward because this continues to be an innovative time, so we have to make sure we do a good job on policy and educating consumers and people in industry so we see the great opportunities available as these new innovations coming forward.