May 23, 2017

Consumer Product Safety Administration seeks collaboration in managing internet of things

As our electronic devices become increasingly interconnected through what is called “the internet of things,” the acting chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said she hopes to work more collaboratively with lawyers and experts in the field to determine how to better address potential hazards. 

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission acting chair Ann Marie Buerkle addresses the ABA Section of Science & Technology Law’s Second Internet of Things National Institute.

Speaking at the American Bar Association Section of Science & Technology Law’s Second Internet of Things National Institute at the law offices of Jones Day in Washington, D.C., Ann Marie Buerkle, who was named acting chair of the CPSC in 2013, said the benefits of IoT are exciting, but these devices present a challenge for government regulators.  “[IoT] can enhance our quality of life, but it also can be a risk not readily apparent to any of us.”

Indeed, from cellphones and tablets, to wearable fitness trackers and other “smart” devices, IoT devices have no doubt improved our lives, but as these technologies advance, so do the resulting legal issues. Data security and protection are primary concerns, as well as issues regarding who is liable when the devices fail.

“Government generally lags behind inventions,” Buerkle said, noting that her agency is responsible for paying attention to the hazards of innovation. The CPSC regulates more than 15,000 types of consumer products, with new inventions in the IoT realm added daily under the jurisdiction of the CPSC.

Among progress made, Buerkle said the connectivity of the IoT has enhanced the way her agency can register consumers, which allows the agency to quickly get out messages about product recalls.

Buerkle said there are three things her agency will need to focus on concerning the IoT:

  1. She said government will have to avoid the “one-size-fits-all approach” to IoT products. Buerkle said, “Each situation should be looked at as unique.” She said staffers will have to be innovative in their approach to understanding the products and not rely on what they know about traditional recalls.

  2. Government agencies can not duplicate services or overlook gaps when it comes to identifying issues and challenges with IoT products and the government agency that should be responsible for overseeing it.

  3. Buerkle said she sees collaboration as key in consumers and industry leaders understanding IoT regulations.

 “Collaboration is key as we hammer our way forward,” Buerkle told attendees.