Nov 7th 2018 | Posted in Mary Scott Nabers' Insights by Mary Scott Nabers

Many still think of Smart Cities as a futuristic possibility but, in most metropolitan areas, the rush to initiate smart city technology is happening in real time. While citizens may not be ready for this, technology and the internet of things (IoT) appear to be inevitable.

There is concern, however, because without transparency and proper data management, the expansion of IoT technology leaves both city and citizen data vulnerable. As ransomware attacks and technological outages over the past year have demonstrated, many local governments lack policies, procedures and secure oversite to handle the large amount of public data that is being gathered.

Concerns about hacking and a surveillance state are nothing new, but mitigating risks and calming public concerns about data privacy should be at the forefront of smart city conversations.  If IoT integration is inevitable, and it likely is, local governments must establish policies and procedures that ensure data protection and network security.

Smart city spending worldwide is projected to reach about $81 billion in 2018.  The best case prediction is that this amount will only rise in the near future.  Tech enthusiasts are elated but a recent IBM assessment of three top smart city vendors found a total of 17 significant vulnerabilities in products from the top three technology firms. Eight critical flaws were also detected.

The Privacy Act of 1974 guarantees “the right of individuals to be protected against unwarranted invasion of their privacy resulting from the collection, maintenance and use of personal information.” This act is being used by civil liberties groups in some cases to halt the adoption of smart city technology.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California joined with other privacy advocates last year in calling on the San Jose City Council to pass an ordinance that requires a robust public discussion related to surveillance technology, including video cameras, audio sensors and LED streetlights.

Chicago is a smart city leader and a recognized proponent of engaging IoT technology. However, city leaders appear to be doing it right. The city has received praise from privacy watchdogs over its handling of an “Array of Things” project.

The project included sensors that collected real-time data on the city’s environment, infrastructure and citizen activity. Anticipating privacy concerns, officials created processes and procedures designed to secure transparency, data storage and locations of the technology. The city also spent six months in vetting the process with citizens. The grassroots involvement mitigated public concern surrounding the project.

New York City is also recognized as a leader in developing standards for the use of smart city technology. The city’s guidelines focus on transparency, security, data management and sustainability. Because of the acceptance that the guidelines have generated, many other cities have adopted the same plan. In fact, currently more than 35 cities and 111 municipalities have adopted the guidelines.

Seattle is another city with a comprehensive municipal privacy program based on a core set of privacy principles and policies. The program clearly establishes the obligations and requirements of city departments regarding management, maintenance and use of data. These policies mandate the publication of privacy impact assessments and reports about the ongoing program and public engagement before any installation of new surveillance technologies.

Spokane, Washington, is in talks to initiate a new smart city pilot initiative. The initiative will focus on traffic, grid resiliency and air quality. If launched, it will expand a number of smart city projects including its smart streetlight project which captures data about air quality, noise and temperature. To save energy, the possibility of connecting coordinating traffic signals and automatically dimming lights when traffic is low is appealing.

Ohio is leading the way in smart city transportation innovation and has been able to partner with private-sector firms to establish an Acceleration Fund for smart city projects. The fund today stands at $510 million in committed investments, with a goal of $1 billion by 2020.  At least 15 smart city projects have been identified including a multi-modal trip planning and common payment system and electric vehicle charging systems.

Mesa, Arizona, is developing a smart city strategic plan to better serve its citizens. The city is currently soliciting input from citizens and local businesses and the objective is to focus on public safety, transportation and responsive services.

Kansas City, Missouri, is establishing a large public-private partnership for a smart city pilot project. The collaborative initiative will be planned to include an integrated data analytics platform and expansion of IoT sensors and wireless networks. A recently released solicitation document leaves many of the project details up to a private-sector partner. The most unique aspect of the plan is that it calls for a smart city program manager who will oversee a long-term strategic plan for IoT connections and expansions.

IoT technology is more than a trend.  It is, unless there are dramatic and immediate changes, the future for the public at large.


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Mary Scott Nabers

As President and CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc., Mary Scott Nabers has decades of experience working in the public-private sector. A well-recognized expert in the P3 and government contracting fields, she is often asked to share her industry insights with top publications and through professional speaking engagements.