Senators Ponder Internet of Things Security in First Hearing

NEWS ANALYSIS: The Senate committee members shared concerns about balancing innovation and security during a hearing on draft legislation to promote Internet safety.

IoT Security 2

It's not often that you hear discussions about smart automobiles and smart coffee makers bandied about in the halls of the U.S. Senate, but it happened on Feb. 11 as the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held its first hearing on draft legislation aimed at safeguarding Internet security.

Senators’ comments showed they were concerned about ensuring the security of users without thwarting the way of future innovation.

But first they felt compelled to discuss the day's news about Samsung smart televisions, which apparently, can record entire conversations held within range of their microphones, and then send them off into the cloud.

Ranking Member Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) expressed his concern about personal information getting into the hands of third parties without the knowledge of device users, and the subsequent risk to privacy.

"And, more recently, we learned that Samsung’s privacy policy for its voice-activated 'Smart TV' informed consumers that their indoor conversations can be recorded by the television and sent to a third party," Nelson said. "So, Big Brother may really be listening to us."

This part of the discussion underscored the committee’s broader concerns about Internet security. On one hand, growth of the Internet of Things promises a whole new world of data-based capabilities. But on the other hand, if it's done wrong, it's rife with risks to security and privacy. The risks that Senators on both sides of the aisle discussed go far beyond just the release of private information. They're also worried about security risks in the form of criminal and terrorist attacks.

"IoT devices can collect sensitive consumer and business data; therefore, privacy considerations should be at the forefront as we consider this great technological wave," noted Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) in his opening remarks. "Security will also be a critical concern of the Internet of Things due to the scope and sensitivity of the data collected and the interconnection of devices and networks."

Thune added that the government needs to move carefully. "These issues are real, but I encourage policymakers to resist the urge to jump head first into regulating this dynamic marketplace. Let’s tread carefully and thoughtfully before we consider stepping in with a 'government knows best' mentality that could halt innovation and growth. Let’s treat the Internet of Things with the same light touch that has caused the Internet to be such a great American success story."

During the discussion and the questions that followed, much of the concern focused on security. A recent segment on the CBS program "60 Minutes" drew specific mention because it showed how easy it can be to break into an unprotected network and to take control of the devices on the network.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...