We are beginning to see the next big thing in Internet-related innovation. From Fitbit to Google Glass, the so-called ‘Internet of Things’, or the ‘IoT’, is poised to revolutionise the way we interact with the world. Basically, the IoT involves any ‘thing’ and every ‘thing’ connected to the Internet (and/or to other things and people) that allows the transfer of information without the need for personal computers. These wirelessly networked ‘things’ collect data, monitor activities and customise a user’s experience to whatever their needs or desires.
This innovate leap in consumer technology will present significant headaches for Australia’s legislature and judiciary – in particular its potential to rapidly disrupt long-standing social and legal norms with respect to privacy. However, it is easy to forget that while privacy protection is important, so too is innovation, entrepreneurialism, economic growth, price competition, and consumer choice. Finding the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ for regulating the IoT is a delicate predicament confronted by lawmakers.
On one hand, many commentators advocate for tight, immediate preemptive regulation against the IoT on the basis that the mere potential for breaches of privacy warrants an urgent response. Further, it is argued that the longer lawmakers take to act against the IoT, the harder it will be to act. One of the issues with breaches of privacy is that, like defamation, once it has been committed, it cannot be undone. In this respect, it is best to try to protect one’s privacy rather than remedy any breach. On the other hand, the issue with overly precautious regulation is that it aims to predict the future and its hypothetical problems, which may or may not ever materialise. The consequence of such preemptive regulation is that it risks unnecessarily limiting innovations that may yield new and better ways of doing things.
While Australia’s privacy laws are inadequate to deal with the rise of the IoT and need significant updates, lawmakers should not quash incentives for further innovation
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