Law and the Legal Internet of Things

Published by Telefónica IoT Team IoT General

Emerging technologies are usually constrained by existing legislations and regulations that somewhat delay or limit the full potential of disruptive technology. The IoT and m2m are no strangers to this legislation gap that still remains in many countries and business areas.

We want this post to serve as an introduction to the Internet of Things for lawyers and for our regular readers to know the State of Affairs in terms of how legislation has to redefine many legal aspects concerning the IoT.

People new to this connected world might want to visit two of our most influential posts: ‘What is the difference between m2m and the IoT?’ and ‘m2m, NFC, RFID, Big Data, Wi-Fi… What is what in the IoT’.

These two pieces provide enough insight to clearly see that the Internet of Things is clearly not hype, but a technological revolution that is already pervading all aspects of life and will help make sense of the technological burst where everything will be connected.

How does law deal with such a fascinating but huge field that is ever growing in complexity?

Legislation will surely have to look into new situations that change regarding “privacy, security, ownership of data (including the use of aggregated data), and responsibility and legal liability” as Barbara Murphy, from Morgan Lewis says in The National Law Review.

Every IoT related technology offers different legal challenges to face. With Big Data, the main concern lies in rights to use the information collected, identity protection issues, specific data access restrictions for legal reasons, rights of use, ownership and of course protection from theft, or misuse.

Other machine related technologies such as m2m are extensions of existing telecommunication services and therefore already offer a steady ground to legislate upon. Regulations about international roaming, rights for universal access, or more technical issues like mobile coverage equipment and antenna deployment are already in place and are swiftly being modified to accept new use cases where not only people make calls, text or send and receive data but so do practically everything: trucks (fleet management), cars (connected cars), certain stolen items (asset tracking), vending machines (connected vending) or fuel tanks (tank telemetry) to name only a few.

Many important regulation tweaks or complete legal overhauls will still need to be dealt with regarding fascinating issues to answer many questions (some of which are already sparking up interesting debates).

For example Volvo has a tradition of using technology to create value. Their vehicle to vehicle (v2v) technology model relies on m2m communication to allow anonymous sharing of hyper-local weather and traffic conditions among vehicles that can very positively impact driver accident figures. Yet to modify preexistent conditions, disruptive technology always faces certain legal hurdles that need to be clarified like whether users have a right to drive without being tracked or on the other hand all vehicles should provide information for a greater good.

The amount of debatable questions is endless. Can your car report you for speeding? Can your belongings still be tracked and monitored by vendors even long after you purchased them? Can your personal data be shared by vendors for your own benefit? Can we use a car that drives for us? What information is safe to store on a wearable? Who is responsible in the case of a crash between a human driven car and a self-driven one? Where are the limits of contextual marketing? And so on.

There is a very delicate balance to be found between user benefits, user rights, and corporate responsibility that has to be redefined in this connected age. Old rules and regulations no longer apply. Shunning such issues is not an option and lawyers know the tighter the legal safety net is for consumers and enterprises before a new reality is fully adopted the better. Thankfully nowadays many law firms are specialized in technological issues and will lead this Legal Internet of Things. 

Telefónica IoT Team