Why smart cities need privacy officers

With the great power of smart cities tools comes the great responsibility to competently manage them. An often neglected subject is the subject of privacy. Yes, we like the idea of living in a smart city with technology designed to improve our lives. But most of us want to do so in a city that puts our privacy and security first. A city that has a plan to secure this, before rolling out smart city initiatives.

But this is not often the case. In a great article of Albert Gidari on the website of Stanford Law School, Gidari states that “regulatory agencies or those in charge of acquiring technology or deploying ‘smart’ services often don’t consider privacy impacts or risks.”

Example: The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission came with a proposal to collect precise drop-off data from for-hire services like Uber. But did not address the privacy implications or defined specific rules in how to use this data.

The San Jose City Council came with an idea to install 39,000 ‘smart’ streetlights, but these were so smart that they could accommodate video camera’s and microphones. Instead of pro-actively come with privacy rules, they were urged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to ” to adopt an ordinance to ensure democratic control of all of the city’s “surveillance technology decisions”.

How do we prevent smart city tech becoming spy tech? EFF has the answer: ‘Privacy by design’

  • “Technology manufacturers and municipal purchasers must work together at all stages of product development to build privacy safeguards into smart cities technologies. It is not enough to bolt privacy safeguards onto completed tools at the last minute.”
  • City governments must put “limits on initial collection of personal information; encryption and other security measures to control access to that information. And strong policies restraining use and disclosure of that info.

A critical procedural measure is for cities to employ their own privacy officers. Agree?

*) Photo: Bill Brine (CC)

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