Smart Cities: Privacy, Transparency, and Community

Privacy and Security and Artificial Intelligence

Article Snapshot


Kelsey Finch and Omer Tene


Cambridge Handbook of Consumer Privacy, eds. Evan Selinger, Jules Polonetsky and Omer Tene, Cambridge University Press, 2018


Smart cities raise concerns about privacy, autonomy, and bias. A smart city should preserve privacy in three contexts: As a data steward, as a data platform, and as a government authority.

Policy Relevance

Cities should ensure oversight of data. Cities should encourage public commentary as data systems are developed.

Main Points

  • As a data steward, the smart city ensures that data is available, reliable, and useful; cities should document privacy programs to maintain accountability for misuse of data, and should include oversight by a senior official and by a privacy committee.
  • Cities often develop data projects in cooperation with private firms; public-private partnerships require privacy safeguards, as commercial contracts are not intended for public institutions such as schools.
  • Researchers using municipal data have long been advised to protect privacy by stripping identifying information from data (“de-identification”), but data can be reidentified, meaning that de-identification will fail to protect privacy.
  • Cities will serve as computing platforms, centralizing and interconnecting digital infrastructure and data; cities will be gatekeepers, dictating how, when, and why data will flow from one entity to another, and can set privacy norms.
  • As platforms, cities must consider whether urban data is owned by the individual who generates the data, by the technology system provider, by the municipality, or by the public.
  • As governments, municipalities should take care that technology does not replace citizen-centered processes; failure to invite extensive public commentary and engagement in the development of sensor networks and other data initiatives may lead to privacy backlash.
  • Data can either exacerbate or alleviate discrimination; surveillance technologies such as facial recognition should be limited, as such systems have incorporated troubling racial disparities.

Get The Article

Find the full article online

Search for Full Article