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When will our government catch on to the Internet of Things?

When will our government catch on to the Internet of Things?

What exactly is the purpose of government? Should it include mitigating risks that apply at a whole of population level? High levels of suicide, perhaps, workplace deaths and injuries, minimising the risk of catastrophic climate change, mitigating population wide health problems like obesity or rheumatic fever and addressing the crisis in housing. Perhaps the government should even be ahead of the curve, anticipating issues even before the general public becomes painfully and personally aware of them. Of course proactive work in favour of the public is problematic when, as was hinted on National Radio recently public servants appear to be working for the policy needs of their Ministers and tending to deprioritise those of the wider public.

The Internet of things (IOT) has been around since about 1999 and the idea relates to the coming interconnectedness of all things digital. Driverless cars, or fridges that tell their owners when they need to buy milk or throw out the yoghurt are examples of the IOT in the popular imagination. And while some are arguing that the IOT is overhyped there is no doubt that the impacts will be huge and in fact are already with us.

As an article in the Sunday Observer detailed this month IOT is a significant area of public policy risk. If an electricity user can be remotely disconnected for falling behind with payments what is to prevent a disconnection being done remotely by a hacker? Why wouldn’t such a hacker disconnect every customer in a jurisdiction? As massive interconnectedness brings about a potential loss of privacy and control of networked services which is currently hard to imagine, the IOT will multiply the existing problems and risks associated with the internet.

There is no mention of IOT in the budget. There appears to be neither any government funded research nor any public policy work happening in the NZ government even though half of NZ businessesexpect to have IOT applications implemented by the end of 2016 and the industry identifies security as a major concern. Callaghan Innovation appears not to be working on or funding any work on the IOT and at a recent NZ conference on IOT there was only 1 speaker from the public sector and he appeared not to be working on these super-networks.

In contrast there is heavy investment taking place around the world to carry out public policy work aimed at identifying how to manage the risks and opportunities this new technology will bring in its wake. A Guardian article from March 2015 shows that the UK government has put £40M in its budget for this work, which will include developing the policy frameworks, as well as identifying the risks to public and government and other implications of IOT.

The NZ government’s attitude to all sorts of economic development opportunities is that innovation is best left to entrepreneurs and that the public sector’s role is to cut red tape and just ‘get out of the way’. Given this faith in market solutions and private entrepreneurship, the lack of pro-active work to address risks is perhaps is not surprising. In respect of both cutting off economic development opportunities and ensuring public safety, however, it may well be found to be foolhardy.

References

Barcelona based IOT Labs http://iotlabs.solutions/internet-of-things/

IOT 2015 congress http://www.iotevents.org/iot-solutions-world-congress

ENDS

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