This report “Reclaiming the Smart City: Personal Data, Trust and the New Commons” was recently published by Nesta, as part of DECODE (DEcentralised Citizen Owned Data Ecosystems), a major EU Horizon 2020 project. Addressing some of the major flaws in how traditional smart city projects have approached data collection and use, it focuses on how and why city governments are taking a more responsible approach to the use of personal data.
As cities become a major focal point in the personal data economy, city governments adopt data-informed approaches to a wide range of services, from waste management and public transportation to policing and emergency response. Along with the general acceptance that social, economic and environmental pressures can be better responded through harnessing data, a need for a better use of data. Crucial questions arise regarding who decides what to do with all this data, as well as how we can ensure that it does not result in discrimination, exclusion and erosion of privacy for citizens.
- Traditional notions of ‘˜smart city’ put individual privacy at risk. Cities want to be connected, and data-driven, but in doing this many are unwittingly engaging in large-scale surveillance of citizens.
- People have little say over how their personal data gets collected and used, and there are few options that allow policymakers to acquire people’ s data in a more consent-driven way.
- While dominant internet business models encourage stark new imbalances of power, city governments are unsure how to play a more active role in leveraging more responsible innovation with data in the local economy.
Furthermore, this report brings together a range of case studies with cities that have pioneered innovative practices and policies around the responsible use of data, Amsterdam and Barcelona. Combining desk research and over 20 interviews with city administrators in a number of cities across the world, it compiles a range of lessons that policymakers can use to build an alternative version to the smart city. Briefly, their recommendations include:
- Build consensus around clear ethical principles, and translate them into practical policies.
- Train public sector staff in how to assess the benefits and risks of smart technologies.
- Look outside the council for expertise and partnerships, including with other city governments.
- Find and articulate the benefits of privacy and digital ethics to multiple stakeholders
- Become a test-bed for new services that give people more privacy and control.
- Make time and resources available for genuine public engagement on the use of surveillance technologies.
- Build digital literacy and make complex or opaque systems more understandable and accountable.
- Find opportunities to involve citizens in the process of data collection and analysis from start to finish.
- Find the whole report here.