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Internet of Things brings threats -- and new opportunities

The bottom line on the Internet of things from a recently held ABA webinar and the keynote at the fourth annual Internet of Things National Institute, both sponsored the ABA Section of Science & Technology Law: The network of connected devices will continue to expand exponentially, raising issues related to liability, security, privacy and a host of others – presenting challenges and new opportunities for lawyers.

It was only three years ago when the Internet of things was identified as a new legal practice area, said Ruth Hill Bro, co-chair of the ABA Cybersecurity Legal Task Force, and one of the panelists of “The Internet of Things: Everything Will be Connected.”

Since then, the number of connected devices has risen exponentially and won’t slow down. According to fellow panelist Stephen Wu, shareholder at the Silicon Valley Law Group in San Jose, Calif., there were 34.8 billion connected devices in the United States last year, and by 2030, the number will reach 125 billion. 

The growth is fueled by a market hungry for remotely controlled drones that deliver packages to your home, health sensors that alert doctors to medical problems, smart devices that can reduce traffic congestion in cities and other conveniences offered by new technologies.

Wu noted that in 2017, the market for connected products raked in $235 billion in revenue, and $1 trillion is projected for 2022. The mobile phone industry alone is a half a trillion-dollar business right now, he said.

During the webinar, Bro warned of the “unprecedented legal liability issues” raised by the growing number of connected devices, vulnerable to failure, particularly at the hands of cybercriminals.

Michael Chertoff, former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, who was the keynote speaker at the section’s national institute in March, also warned of these legal concerns.

Vulnerabilities are caused by gaps in software development, configuration and failures to update and upgrade devices, he said. Chertoff believes that unless technological risks are addressed, they could ultimately threaten privacy and freedom.

Technological change is happening faster than we can address these issues.

As we become increasingly reliant on these connected devices for important operations, such as monitoring the heart, security risks will continue to loom despite the cybersecurity measures that will likely increase in number this year, said webinar panelist Thomas J. Smedinghoff, of counsel at Locke Lorde LLP in Chicago. 

Among reasons, security isn’t always a priority for manufacturers, he said.

In his keynote, Chertoff urged lawyers to take the lead in establishing the rules and laws around technology before the inevitable crisis without them.

“This is the time to think about what is a reasonable set of principles to govern liability before we have a catastrophe,” he said.

Chertoff is co-founder and executive chairman of the Chertoff Group, which provides high-level strategic counsel to corporate and government leaders on security topics ranging from risk identification and prevention to preparedness, response and recovery.

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