Top 10 tech policy trends to watch in 2020

Given the tech industry's poor track record of protecting users data and controlling its environmental impact, regulators around the globe are stepping into the void.

With the very real prospect of lawmakers and regulators taking a firm stance on how to control the genie that tech has unleashed, Access Partnership, a public policy consultancy in the UK, has released their second annual Top 10 list of the public policy trends tech leaders should be paying attention to.

"It's intended to give them a steer as to what they can do as companies both to avoid regulatory and policy risk that hit them in the wallet, and how they can take advantage of some of the policy trends that governments are nursing to turn them to their advantage," said Greg Francis, managing director, Access Partnership. 

SEE: 5G: What it means for IoT (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Download the free PDF version (TechRepublic)

The policy issues run the gamut from spectrum sharing to data and privacy to the greening of the telecom industry as a whole. While all of the issues listed in the Top 1o will not see significant movement in 2020 due to events like the upcoming presidential election in the US, most are representative of the long-term trend towards a more heavily regulated tech industry, said Dion Hinchcliffe, a vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research.

"The maturing state of the hyper growth technology industry is one that is increasingly dominated by how we're going to make the digital saturation of society and government actually work," he said. "This report shows that issues like public safety, resource sharing, privacy, and regulation will be the next big set of issues that technology, and business must grapple with over the next five to 10 years, as world governments and watchdogs move in."

According to Liz Miller, also a vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, given the lack of trust between tech providers and their customers, none of this should come as a major surprise to tech industry leaders. 

"None of this is happening in secret or silence," she said. "Every new piece of legislation, and every debate brings the issues of data, privacy, and security in the digital economy into the view of the average consumer who is starting to understand the ramifications of their clicking the, 'Yes, I agree to share all of my Facebook information, and the information of all of my friends so I can see the results of this personality quiz.'"

Ranked most likely to least likely, these are the Top 10 policy trends in this year's Access Partnership trends report:

AI regulation is coming

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she would propose artificial intelligence (AI) regulation in her first 100 days of taking office. This makes February the month to watch for what this will entail. The US also is looking into AI regulation but has not set a timetable. These regulations may include efforts to rein in AI-generated content like Deepfakes and tighter technology export controls.

The EU's Digital Services Act builds on GDPR

The newly seated European Commission is looking to hold "digital companies" more accountable for what their users do. While the DSA is unlikely to come to pass in 2020, it is something all tech companies need to watch. Access Partnership calls it the "defining digital regulation of the decade, as it tackles subjects such as the rights of consumers, censorship, the free market, and the responsibility of online platforms."

EU protectionism takes root

The Europeans are concerned they have become overly reliant on technology developed by other nations. As such, they are working to promote home-grown solutions to counter this perceived threat and to bolster the European tech industry. According to Access Partnership they will take a three-pronged approach: Regulating "big tech" in order to control it; reassessing the EU's reliance on non-EU developed tech for critical services; and greater control over personal data (digital sovereignty).

SEE: EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Data sharing regulation gains traction

Digital platforms collect and share mountains of data about their customers in order to do things like conduct targeted advertising based on the websites they have recently visited. Combined with the massive personal data breaches of the past few years, this has pushed the EU and other nations to regulate how data is shared. The EU Commission is working on its ePrivacy Regulation. Australia will be implementing its Consumer Data Right rules in July 2020. Japan has "information banks" designed to encourage data sharing. Singapore launched its "Trusted Data Sharing Framework" in 2019. Expect more countries to follow suit.

5G security takes center stage

As 5G gets ready for widespread global adoption, the massive amounts of sensitive, critical data (think self-driving cars talking to one another) expect to traverse these networks will require them to be free from hacking. This increased need for security will spur regulators, telecoms, mobile operators, and governments to begin the process of exploring the various ways they deploy to enhance network security.

Internet of Things (IoT) gets increased attention

Given the industry's poor track record of device-level security, IoT device regulation is already on the radar of many governments and regulators. California's IoT regulation, SB-327, regarding the security of connected devices went into effect on January 1 of this year; the US Senate has introduced the Federal IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Bill; the European Electronic Communications Code may impact the rules regarding licensing, portability, and quality of services of IoT devices; and Brazil has launched its National IoT Plan. Given the proliferation of use cases and wide-spread adoption of these emerging technologies, expect more IoT regulation to come.

Software supply chain security SBOM

Look for more highly regulated industries to begin demanding a software bill of materials (SBOM) in 2020. With so much of the world running on open source software that is often not secure, regulators in the US are encouraging the big companies that do business with the federal government to track the different software elements of the platforms, systems, and applications they deploy. 

Spectrum sharing gets a fresh look

With the demand for ever-more radio spectrum growing yearly, regulators in the US are looking more favorably on the idea of spectrum sharing, where the white spaces, once kept in place to keep TV signals from interfering with each other, are pressed into service. According to the US National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), "[s]pectrum sharing is necessary because growing demand is crowding the airwaves. Smartphones, the Internet of Things, military and public safety radios, wearable devices, smart vehicles, and countless other devices all depend on the same wireless bands of the electromagnetic spectrum to share data, voice and images."

The "Greening" of ICT

Responsible for much of the CO2 emitted yearly, the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) industry is getting fresh scrutiny from the International Technology Union (ITU). According to Access Partnership, given the increased usage and environmental impact of ICT technologies, "[t]he ITU's secretary-general has made it clear that low carbon and a more circular economy are of the highest priority, and so we can expect to see these issues form a key trend in 2020." Along with its new environmental agenda outlines at the 2019 COP25 conference in Madrid, the ITU plans to work with the ICT industry, and regulators around the world to create a "low carbon and a more circular economy."

US privacy law take shape

Although unlikely to pass this year, the US Congress is finally taking seriously the idea of national privacy law. Spurred to action by California's Consumer Privacy Act, which goes into effect in July 2020, draft legislation—the Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act  and US Consumer Data Privacy Act—are before the Senate Commerce Committee the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Although there is disagreement among Republican and Democratic approaches, both sides appear to favor some sort of action. The early part of 2020 should give some indication of which way these legislative winds will blow.

Also see

Policy

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto