A big “maybe” is the answer to that question. If your refrigerator is a new model that is connected to the internet, there’s a chance that it can be compromised to spy on you (but “maybe” in the near future).

The revelation that got the internet talking about IoT (Internet of Things) devices spying on us was a statement made by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. Clapper was part of a US Senate assessment of the threats faced when he submitted evidence stating that in the future, intelligence agencies may tap into IoT devices to identify or monitor suspects.

As we are increasingly surrounded by connected devices, Clapper’s statements caused a lot of concern. Here’s what James Clapper actually said to The Guardian:

"In the future, intelligence services might use the [internet of things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.”

Having a massive amount of connected devices presents a huge opportunity for surveillance agencies. However, security concerns aside, Americans are not comfortable with commercial surveillance let alone surveillance by their own government.

As a result, the need for enhanced encryption of IoT devices is now becoming paramount.

This in turn has the potential to halt the rise of IoT and negatively impact adoption.

But is there a reason to panic?

Despite the comments made by the intelligence chief, you have to admit that this is nothing new. He went on to make statements that encryption was having a negative impact on gathering intelligence. It’s really the same as spying on you by tapping your phone, email, social media account, etc.

It’s true that having multiple connected devices provides multiple opportunities for the government and criminals to spy on you. So it all goes back to the several arguments that are in defense of encryption.

Clapper further went on to state that cyber security was a major concern as the Chinese government has been known to hack American entities while the terror group ISIS was developing significant cyber capabilities.

So the government is aware of the importance of cyber security. So much so that Obama’s fiscal 2017 budget proposal has a request for $19 billion for cyber security (this is a $5 billion increase from the previous year).

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Robust Encryption is Imperative

Yes I may sound like a broken record, but enhanced encryption is what the future will be all about. The only way to protect yourself from criminals and government agencies is through encryption, so there will be much more attention paid to keeping us secure.

Further, we can’t have different rules for different people. No matter what the situation is, there can’t be a backdoor for the so called “good guys.” What we really need the government to do is draw up robust lines around privacy and security protocols and ensure that intelligence agencies follow the rules.

When it comes to privacy, three characteristics come to mind:

  1. Ubiquitous collection of data
  2. Unexpected use and adverse consequences of using consumer data
  3. Increased security risks

When ubiquitous collection of data is taking place, the cumulative result of tracking and sensing via multiple devices has the potential to draw an accurate picture of each individual. As a result, this becomes quite a sensitive issue.

The sensors in these connected devices go into very intimate areas of our homes, automobiles, and lives. So the data collected will essentially allow companies to digitally monitor the most private aspects of your life.

Further, the information can be used for something completely different from what it was intended to. The information collected about you from your device can be sold to someone else who will use this data for another purpose.

As a result, more needs to be done by all concerned parties to clearly draw up regulations on how one should go about using the data collected by IoT devices.

It isn’t all Doom and Gloom

Republican Representative Blake Farenthold and Democratic Representative Ted Lieu are pushing The Encrypt Act that will thwart any locality or state from mandating sellers, providers, and manufacturers to alter the security or design to decrypt a device for intelligence agencies.

However, nothing has been written into law yet, so hopefully we will head in that direction and some common sense will prevail.

Further, our children now live in a different world, so steps need to be taken to protect them from the potential “stranger” observing them from inside their own homes.

What do you think about IoT and government surveillance? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Andrew Zola is a freelance writer, designer, and artist working in branding and marketing for over ten years. He is a contributor to various publications with a focus on new technology and marketing.

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