The Internet of Things inched subliminally a bit closer towards the public psyche when UK Environment Minister Owen Paterson announced on Wednesday that all dogs in England will need to be micro-chipped by April 2016.
In itself that's no big deal - unless you're a dog. Ten EU countries already have compulsory tagging and, in any case, about 3.3m dogs in England are already tagged with implanted FDX-B transponders.
What gnaws at me is the way this Internet of Things style application is being decided and wrapped up to go through Parliament on the nod as secondary legislation. There is minimal thought for the infrastructural technology and its potential implications. So there is a risk of unintended consequences - especially given the exponential advances in the technology and its interconnectivity.
IoT Apps: Local decisions today need future vision
There is always a danger when government decisions for tomorrow, with potentially far-reaching implications, are taken within specific localised sectors on the basis of today's technology. There can be too little awareness or recognition of the fundamental paradigm shifts that exponential technological step changes are bringing - especially when they relate to the Internet of Things. The three years until 2016 mark at least one, and probably two, step changes in technology performance.
This concern doesn't just apply to dog tagging. The same could probably be said for the compulsory introduction of smart chips in anything - cars, dustbins, electricity meters. All the more so given the relentless convergence of devices and data.
Dog Microchip Tagging: basis for decisions
The background is that last April the UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) set up a consultation into dog tagging with support from much of the dog world. Some 96% of all 27,339 responses (including a 19,100 response a Survey Monkey Survey) support compulsory tagging. They see it as worthy, with compulsory dog tagging bringing traceability of stray dogs, accountability for irresponsible owners, and simpler enforcement of dog laws.
Any controversial bits were not about the technology. They were about moral or health impacts on dogs. The Greater London Authority was one of the 4% that did not support compulsory tagging - Mayor Boris Johnson is against compulsory dog tagging on practical grounds relating to the difficulty of monitoring and enforcement.
Dog Tagging and Technology
As regards the technology it looks likely that OSI standards are (in this case ISO 17784 & 17785) to be urged for the transponder chips and for the databases. But that is not certain at this stage. There is an expectation that the dog industry and its suppliers to sort out the detail.
But the issues surrounding technology have never been more important.The chips are neutral - but humans are nor. So safeguards are needed.
The dog world may now expect to sleep more soundly, confident that stray dogs will be rounded up. But the millions of dog owners probably have little inkling of how by 2016 their and their dogs movements and lives could become inextricably bound up in a meshed internet world. Their, and their dogs', data could well be intricately cross-linked, and with unanticipated inferences about their behaviour, across multiple business and social environments.
Need for Cross Government IoT Implication Planning
The scope of thinking needs to go wider than just one small part of one government department.
The Internet of Things, with its billions of programmable, intelligent, intercommunicating sensor devices, will put on steroids all the human rights and personal data issues surrounding the current use of the Internet.
The independent Open IoT Assembly of IoT pioneers, impatient with the lack of preparatory thinking and risk planning on corporate or government agendas, last June set out draft principles for an Open IoT Definition to guard against potential downsides to the positives of machine generated data capture.
The Open IoT Assembly highlighted areas such as: Data Ownership and licensing provisions; Accessibility of data; Timeliness of data access; Preservation of Privacy and Transparency of process.
This forward thinking looks like getting another boost, this time global, at the inaugural IoT World Forum Steering Committee meeting in San Jose, California, later this month.
The dog tagging unit of DEFRA probably wouldn't see it as their remit to solve all of government's safeguards for Internet of Things deployment. It would be right - this should be part of public policy cross-cutting all central government departments.
With little prospect of that in sight maybe there is one thing that DEFRA officials can prepare for - how to handle the possibility in three years time of millions of disgruntled dog owners coming back to bite them!