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Whitaker Ideas Forum: Rónán Kennedy, De-camouflaging Chameleons- Requiring Transparency and Privacy Protection in the Internet of Things

January 17 @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Speaker(s): Rónán Kennedy

Affiliation: Technology and Governance

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Information and communications technology (ICT) and the development of the so-called ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) provide new and valuable affordances to businesses and consumers. Digital devices now have very useful adaptive capabilities, but rapid development of so-called ‘smart devices’ means that many everyday items are now impenetrable ‘black boxes’ and their behaviours can be subverted. This paper contributes to the literature by bringing together examples of digital devices being surreptitiously diverted, placing these in a theoretical context, and providing proposals for law reform.

It explores three case studies which highlight different aspects of this developing phenomenon: the scandal surrounding Volkswagen’s low-emissions diesel cars; opportunities for intimate and multi-faceted surveillance, either by government or underground; and the risk of identity theft or unwittingly providing infrastructure for botnets.

The paper places these troubling developments in the theoretical context of Foucauldian governmentality, demonstrating that each is an example of ‘resistance’ to the development of new means of power through ICT. A new challenge posed by the IoT is how to respond to ‘chameleon devices’, which change their behaviour in response to external conditions, camouflaging their real nature in order to evade detection. This paper outlines proposals for reform which seek to ensure that innovation is ethical, moral, and in line with public policy goals, but are mindful of the constraints of intellectual property: global labelling standards that clearly indicate transparency and privacy protections to consumers; mandatory open source in some instances or code escrow in others; and licensing requirements for software engineers.