House Wants Companies to Tell Consumers About Cameras, Microphones in Devices

House Wants Companies to Tell Consumers About Cameras, Microphones in Devices
Smart home service devices is displayed at CES 2017 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nev., on Jan. 5, 2017. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Nathan Worcester
The House of Representatives on Feb. 27 overwhelmingly voted to make manufacturers tell consumers if an Internet-connected device comes with a camera or microphone, with enforcement left to the Federal Trade Commission.

That requirement does not cover certain devices, such as "a telephone (including a mobile phone), a laptop, tablet, or any device that a consumer would reasonably expect to have a microphone or camera."

A motion to suspend the rules and pass H.R. 538 flew through the chamber with 406 yeas and 12 nays: 201 Democrats and 205 Republicans voted for it, while 12 Republicans voted against it. 15 representatives didn't vote.

The motion's opponents include a number of well-known conservative and libertarian lawmakers.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), and Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) all voted against it.

 Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) in Washington on March 8, 2022. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) in Washington on March 8, 2022. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The Epoch Times has reached out to those lawmakers to learn why they opposed the motion.

"This is a relatively straightforward bill," said Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), a supporter of H.R. 538.

"Internet-connected devices are becoming increasingly present in our lives, and it's important for people to understand what they're buying."

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), another supporter of the measure, told his colleagues about the rapid speed and massive scale of the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution in consumer products.

"Today, the average American home has 11 Internet of Things, or IoT, devices," Pallone said.

Yet, Pallone's numbers appear to be out of date.

A recent Deloitte survey suggests the number of Internet-connected items is even higher, at 22 smart devices per home as of 2022.

"We must ensure that the IoT revolution does not come at the expense of consumers' privacy," said Pallone. He went on to describe reports that IoT-connected devices are recording users without them being aware.

The danger of smart devices extends beyond the threat from petty scammers and data-hungry corporations.

One 2022 report by Christopher Balding suggested that China could surreptitiously record Americans using coffee makers manufactured in the country.

"While we cannot say this company is collecting data on non-Chinese users, all evidence indicates their machines can and do collect data on users outside of mainland China and store the data in China,” the report states.

Meanwhile, IoT is currently helping Australia transform a coal port, Newcastle, into a "smart city."
The European Union has also recognized growing security concerns over smart devices. It unveiled new cybersecurity rules in September 2022.
A Senate version of the smart device disclosure bill has been sent to that body's Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for review.
Nathan Worcester covers national politics for The Epoch Times and has also focused on energy and the environment. Nathan has written about everything from fusion energy and ESG to Biden's classified documents and international conservative politics. He lives and works in Chicago. Nathan can be reached at [email protected].