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Threats of the internet of things in a techno-regulated society: a new legal challenge of the inform

Atualizado: 25 de nov. de 2020

Autor : Eduardo Magrani

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Technology has been rapidly changing the way we interact with the world around us. Companies, aiming to meet new consumer demands, are developing products with technological interfaces that would have been unimaginable a decade ago.

Automated systems turn on lights and warm meals as you leave your work, intelligent bracelets and insoles share with your friends how much you have walked on foot or on bike (Nike Running, 2012); sensors that automatically warn farmers when an animal is sick or pregnant (Computer Science Zone, 2015). These examples are all manifestations associated with the concept of “Internet of Things” (“IoT”).

There are strong disagreements regarding what IoT stands for. There is no such thing as a unanimously well-defined concept for IoT. More broadly, it can be understood as an interconnected environment of physical objects linked to the Internet through small built-in sensors, that creates a computer-based ubiquitous ecosystem, in order to facilitate and introduce functional solutions for daily routines and activities (Federal Trade Commission, 2015;, 2014).

Even though it might resemble a futuristic scenario, this kind of technology is already part of the present. Bracelet computers, smart watches, health devices, smart houses, cars and smart cities, are all manifestations of the “Internet of Things” (Federal Trade Commission, 2015).

However, despite the present context, it is still a fairly recent culture based on the new relations we are forging with machines and interconnected devices. It is estimated that the number of “things” connected to the Internet have surpassed the number of people, what further confirms this new human-machine relationship. Estimations (Barker, 2014) tells that in 2020 the quantity of interconnected objects will overcome 25 billion, being able to reach a mark of 50 billion smart devices.

All this hyperconnectivity and continuous interaction between gadgets, sensors and people, points to the rise of data and logs being produced, stored and processed both virtually and physically. On one hand, this may produce innumerous benefits to consumers. Interconnected health devices allow constant and efficient monitoring as well as greater interaction between doctor and patient. Residential automated systems will enable users to send messages to their home devices even before they arrive, performing actions such as opening the garage door, turning off alarms, turning on the lights, preparing a hot bath, cooking dinner, playing that special song, and even shifting the rooms` temperature. Moreover, what the future holds for IoT is yet to be discovered.

On the other hand, the large amount of connected apparatuses will accompany us daily and regularly in our everyday life, and therefore collecting, transmitting, storing and sharing an enormous amount of data – most of it strictly private and even intimate.

With the exponential rise of such devices, we should also pay attention to the potential risks and challenges that this increase may bring to fundamental rights. Those challenges can be investigated through a wide variety of lenses. For example, the new technological scenario is occasioning several changes on regulation and in jurisprudence of consumer’s law. Nevertheless, despite the variety of areas covered by this discussion, the analysis intended in this paper will try to investigate those challenges especially through the lens of privacy, freedom of expression and protection of personal data.

Although some of the threats and risks of the IoT scenario do not seem novel, considering how recent this context of hyperconnectivity is, we are not yet fully conscious of the possible damages that are dramatically enhanced in an IoT environment nor do we have sufficient legal regulation to avoid losses that could arise from the unclear processes of storage, treatment and sharing of our personal data in the context of IoT.

Besides, while we are failing on having an adequate regulatory framework upheld by the law, we are experiencing a strong auto-regulation from the market, a regulation that, at many times, is made through code design[1], what we may call a techno-regulation[2]. It is crucial to analyze what the new legal challenges are in this context that forces us to think about an adequate legal framework to respond to those challenges.

With that in mind, this paper is structured in two main sections. The first introduces the concept of IoT as well as shows how the focal point of this discussion goes beyond the IoT itself, linking up to the concepts of interconnectivity and Web 3.0. To reflect on the IoT nascency, it is important to take a step backwards and look carefully into the impacts of (the promise of) hyperconnectivity. That is why the next section, even though titled “The Internet of Things”, is not restricted to IoT, it encompasses the development of the Web – showing how the user’s experience has changed in a context of greater interactivity and connectiveness.

The second section of this essay tries to sustain the importance that the law advances in the search for a new regulation, especially in Brazil, that is both adequate to new technologies and that fits the new IoT context, preventing a negative scenario where the techno-regulation overlaps the regulatory framework based on the rule of law and controls us in an insurmountable way, potentially violating several fundamental rights, such as privacy, freedom of speech and access to knowledge.

Based on a theoretical and constitutional approach to current technological evolution with particular regard to the Internet of Things and its privacy dimension, the purpose of this preliminary effort is to trigger further reflections about the regulatory challenges posed by greater (inter)connectivity.

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