Many American cities are already adopting technologies to improve urban living –bike share systems, street parking payment through smart phones and paying tolls through E-ZPass. Let’s take Boston for example; the city has created and implemented the use of an application called Street Bump which uses accelerometers in residents’ smartphones to catalog unexpected bumps they hit while driving. Boston has also created a new system for centralizing residents’ complaints related to city infrastructure. An application called Citizen Connect allows residents to send photos via the application to report the necessity of streetlight repair or snow removal. Most recently, we wrote about Massachusetts new E-ZPass system wherein residents (and non-residents passing through the state via the Massachusetts Turnpike) will be able to pay for tolls via sensors and cameras as opposed to driving through toll stations. However, with these so-called ‘smart cities,’ and increased efficiency, comes some risks to individual citizens which many policymakers have not yet considered.
With more and more data collection comes more and more privacy concerns. And cities are not always thinking about privacy implications nor are the producing or providing appropriate privacy policies to their residents to describe what data is collected, how the data is used, to whom the data is disclosed and for how long the data will be retained. A larger concern may be law enforcement (and other government agencies) use of the data without securing proper warrants. And the use of this data for marketing purposes without proper consumer consent. The key to a successful smart city seems to be balance. Balance between the use of technology for efficiency and reduction of costs while also ensuring that individuals privacy is valued and protected.