Smart city tech can enhance life with data privacy protections

March 16, 2023


Smart city technologies promise to improve urban living through better access to government services for residents, while addressing societal challenges that range from managing traffic congestion and reducing carbon emissions to improving public health outcomes and providing affordable housing options.

As of 2019, there were smart cities projects in place around the globe, with 379 fully developed smart cities in 61 countries. The smart cities market is expected to top $7 billion by the end of the decade, according to a 2022 report from Precedence Research, a global market research and consulting firm.

A smart city initiative might involve internet-connected sensors, mobile apps, public WiFi access, high speed communications networks, utility meters and cameras — all collecting large amounts of potentially sensitive data about residents subsequently processed with the help of analytics tools and algorithms.

Not surprisingly, the advantages of smart city technologies are potentially offset by concerns about protecting residents’ privacy and safeguarding public trust.

A new white paper from Covington & Burling LLP, a global law firm based in Washington DC, published in partnership with Mcity, identifies some of the core privacy considerations raised by smart cities — government surveillance and data security. The paper proposes a set of core principles to consider in developing and deploying smart cities technologies:

  • human-centric approaches to smart cities design and implementation
  • transparency for city residents
  • privacy by design
  • anonymization and deidentification
  • data minimization and purpose specification
  • trusted data sharing
  • cybersecurity resilience

The paper concludes that privacy in smart cities can be a feature, not a problem. The principles outlined by Covington & Burling can help provide a framework for responsible adoption of smart cities projects.

Covington & Burling is a member of Mcity’s Leadership Circle of industry partners.

The paper is titled, “Privacy Frameworks for Smart Cities.”