In High-Tech Cities, No More Potholes, but What About Privacy?

Timothy Williams in The New York Times: “Hundreds of cities, large and small, have adopted or begun planning smart cities projects. But the risks are daunting. Experts say cities frequently lack the expertise to understand privacy, security and financial implications of such arrangements. Some mayors acknowledge that they have yet to master the responsibilities that go along with collecting billions of bits of data from residents….

Supporters of “smart cities” say that the potential is enormous and that some projects could go beyond creating efficiencies and actually save lives. Among the plans under development are augmented reality programs that could help firefighters find people trapped in burning buildings and the collection of sewer samples by robots to determine opioid use so that city services could be aimed at neighborhoods most in need.

The hazards are also clear.

“Cities don’t know enough about data, privacy or security,” said Lee Tien, a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on digital rights. “Local governments bear the brunt of so many duties — and in a lot of these cases, they are often too stupid or too lazy to talk to people who know.”

Cities habitually feel compelled to outdo each other, but the competition has now been intensified by lobbying from tech companies and federal inducements to modernize.

“There is incredible pressure on an unenlightened city to be a ‘smart city,’” said Ben Levine, executive director at MetroLab Network, a nonprofit organization that helps cities adapt to technology change.

That has left Washington, D.C., and dozens of other cities testing self-driving cars and Orlando trying to harness its sunshine to power electric vehicles. San Francisco has a system that tracks bicycle traffic, while Palm Beach, Fla., uses cycling data to decide where to send street sweepers. Boise, Idaho, monitors its trash dumps with drones. Arlington, Tex., is looking at creating a transit system based on data from ride-sharing apps….(More)”.