Governing Privacy in the Datafied City


Paper by Ira Rubinstein and Bilyana Petkova: “Privacy — understood in terms of freedom from identification, surveillance and profiling — is a precondition of the diversity and tolerance that define the urban experience, But with “smart” technologies eroding the anonymity of city sidewalks and streets, and turning them into surveilled spaces, are cities the first to get caught in the line of fire? Alternatively, are cities the final bastions of privacy? Will the interaction of tech companies and city governments lead cities worldwide to converge around the privatization of public spaces and monetization of data with little to no privacy protections? Or will we see different city identities take root based on local resistance and legal action?

This Article delves into these questions from a federalist and localist angle. In contrast to other fields in which American cities lack the formal authority to govern, we show that cities still enjoy ample powers when it comes to privacy regulation. Fiscal concerns, rather than state or federal preemption, play a role in privacy regulation, and the question becomes one of how cities make use of existing powers. Populous cosmopolitan cities, with a sizeable market share and significant political and cultural clout, are in particularly noteworthy positions to take advantage of agglomeration effects and drive hard deals when interacting with private firms. Nevertheless, there are currently no privacy front runners or privacy laggards; instead, cities engage in “privacy activism” and “data stewardship.”

First, as privacy activists, U.S. cities use public interest litigation to defend their citizens’ personal information in high profile political participation and consumer protection cases. Examples include legal challenges to the citizenship question in the 2020 Census, and to instances of data breach including Facebook third-party data sharing practices and the Equifax data breach. We link the Census 2020 data wars to sanctuary cities’ battles with the federal administration to demonstrate that political dissent and cities’ social capital — diversity — are intrinsically linked to privacy. Regarding the string of data breach cases, cities expand their experimentation zone by litigating privacy interests against private parties.

Second, cities as data stewards use data to regulate their urban environment. As providers of municipal services, they collect, analyze and act on a broad range of data about local citizens or cut deals with tech companies to enhance transit, housing, utility, telecom, and environmental services by making them smart while requiring firms like Uber and Airbnb to share data with city officials. This has proven contentious at times but in both North American and European cities, open data and more cooperative forms of data sharing between the city, commercial actors, and the public have emerged, spearheaded by a transportation data trust in Seattle. This Article contrasts the Seattle approach with the governance and privacy deficiencies accompanying the privately-led Quayside smart city project in Toronto. Finally, this Article finds the data trust model of data sharing to hold promise, not least since the European rhetoric of exclusively city-owned data presented by Barcelona might prove difficult to realize in practice….(More)”.

Citizen participation in food systems policy making: A case study of a citizens’ assembly


Paper by Bob Doherty et al: “In this article, we offer a contribution to the emerging debate on the role of citizen participation in food system policy making. A key driver is a recognition that solutions to complex challenges in the food system need the active participation of citizens to drive positive change. To achieve this, it is crucial to give citizens the agency in processes of designing policy interventions. This requires authentic and reflective engagement with citizens who are affected by collective decisions. One such participatory approach is citizen assemblies, which have been used to deliberate a number of key issues, including climate change by the UK Parliament’s House of Commons (House of Commons., 2019). Here, we have undertaken analysis of a citizen food assembly organized in the City of York (United Kingdom). This assembly was a way of hearing about a range of local food initiatives in Yorkshire, whose aim is to both relocalise food supply and production, and tackle food waste.

These innovative community-based business models, known as ‘food hubs’, are increasing the diversity of food supply, particularly in disadvantaged communities. Among other things, the assembly found that the process of design and sortation of the assembly is aided by the involvement of local stakeholders in the planning of the assembly. It also identified the potential for public procurement at the city level, to drive a more sustainable sourcing of food provision in the region. Furthermore, this citizen assembly has resulted in a galvanizing of individual agency with participants proactively seeking opportunities to create prosocial and environmental change in the food system….(More)”.

Strategies for Urban Network Learning: International Practices and Theoretical Reflections


Book edited by Leon van den Dool: This book presents international experiences in urban network learning. It is vital for cities to learn as it is necessary to constantly adapt and improve public performance and address complex challenges in a constantly changing environment. It is therefore highly relevant to gain more insight into how cities can learn. Cities address problems and challenges in networks of co-operation between existing and new actors, such as state actors, market players and civil society. This book presents various learning environments and methods for urban network learning, and aims to learn from experiences across the globe. How does learning take place in these urban networks? What factors and situations help or hinder these learning practices? Can we move from intuition to a strategy to improve urban network learning?…(More)”.

Protecting Data Privacy and Rights During a Crisis are Key to Helping the Most Vulnerable in Our Community


Blog by Amen Ra Mashariki: “Governments should protect the data and privacy rights of their communities even during emergencies. It is a false trade-off to require more data without protection. We can and should do both — collect the appropriate data and protect it. Establishing and protecting the data rights and privacy of our communities’ underserved, underrepresented, disabled, and vulnerable residents is the only way we can combat the negative impact of COVID-19 or any other crisis.

Building trust is critical. Governments can strengthen data privacy protocols, beef up transparency mechanisms, and protect the public’s data rights in the name of building trust — especially with the most vulnerable populations. Otherwise, residents will opt out of engaging with government, and without their information, leaders like first responders will be blind to their existence when making decisions and responding to emergencies, as we are seeing with COVID-19.

As Chief Analytics Officer of New York City, I often remembered the words of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, especially with regards to using data during emergencies, that there are “known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns, and we will always get hurt by the unknown unknowns.” Meaning the things we didn’t know — the data that we didn’t have — was always going to be what hurt us during times of emergencies….

There are three key steps that governments can do right now to use data most effectively to respond to emergencies — both for COVID-19 and in the future.

Seek Open Data First

In times of crisis and emergencies, many believe that government and private entities, either purposefully or inadvertently, are willing to trample on the data rights of the public in the name of appropriate crisis response. This should not be a trade-off. We can respond to crises while keeping data privacy and data rights in the forefront of our minds. Rather than dismissing data rights, governments can start using data that is already openly available. This seems like a simple step, but it does two very important things. First, it forces you to understand the data that is already available in your jurisdiction. Second, it grows your ability to fill the gaps with respect to what you know about the city by looking outside of city government. …(More)”.

Exploring the role of data in post-Covid recovery


Blog by Eddie Copeland: “…how might we think about exploring the Amplify box in the diagram above? I’d suggest three approaches are likely to emerge:

Image outlines three headings: Specific fixes, new opportunities, generic capabilities

Let’s discuss these in the context of data.

Specific Fixes — A number of urgent data requests have arisen during Covid where it’s been apparent that councils simply don’t have the data they need. One example is how local authorities have needed to distribute business support grants. Many have discovered that while they have good records of local companies on their business rates database, they lack email or bank details for the majority. That makes it incredibly difficult to get payments out promptly. We can and should fix specific issues like this and ensure councils have those details in future.

New Opportunities — A crisis also prompts us to think about how things could be done differently and better. Perhaps the single greatest new opportunity we could aim to realise on a data front would be shifting from static to dynamic (if not real-time) data on a greater range of issues. As public sector staff, from CEOs to front line workers, have sought to respond to the crisis, the limitations of relying on static weekly, monthly or annual figures have been laid bare. As factors such as transport usage, high street activity and use of public spaces become deeply important in understanding the nature of recovery, more dynamic data could make a real difference.

Generic Capabilities — While the first two categories of activity are worth pursuing, I’d argue the single most positive legacy that could come out of a crisis is that we put in place generic capabilities — core foundation stones — that make us better able to respond to whatever comes next. Some of those capabilities will be about what individual councils need to have in place to use data well. However, given that few crises respect local authority boundaries, arguably the most important set of capabilities concern how different organisations can collaborate with data.

Putting in place the foundation stones for data collaboration

For years there has been discussion about the factors that make data collaboration between different public sector bodies hard.

Five stand out.

  1. Technology — some technologies make it hard to get the data out (e.g. lack of APIs); worse, some suppliers charge councils to access their own data.
  2. Data standards — the use of different standards, formats and conventions for recording data, and the lack of common identifiers like Unique Property Reference Numbers (UPRNs) makes it hard to compare, link or match records.
  3. Information Governance (IG) — Ensuring that London’s public sector organisations can use data in a way that’s legal, ethical and secure — in short, worthy of citizens’ trust and confidence — is key. Yet councils’ different approaches to IG can make the process take a long time — sometimes months.
  4. Ways of working — councils’ different processes require and produce different data.
  5. Lack of skills — when data skills are at a premium, councils understandably need staff with data competencies to work predominantly on internal projects, with little time available for collaboration.

There’s a host of reasons why progress to resolve these barriers has been slow. But perhaps the greatest is the perception that the effort required to address them is greater than the reward of doing so…(More)” –

See also Call For Action here

The tricky math of lifting coronavirus lockdowns


James Temple at MIT Technology Review: “…A crucial point of the work—which Steinhardt and MIT’s Andrew Ilyas​ wrote up in a draft paper that hasn’t yet been published or peer-reviewed—is that communities need to get much better at tracking infections. “With the data we currently have, we actually just don’t know what the level of safe mobility is,” Steinhardt says. “We need much better mechanisms for tracking prevalence in order to do any of this safely.”

The analysis relies on other noisy and less-than-optimal measurements as well, including using hospitalization admissions and deaths to estimate disease prevalence before the lockdowns. They also had to make informed assumptions, which others might disagree with, about how much shelter-in-place rules have altered the spread of the disease. Much of the overall uncertainty is due to the spottiness of testing to date. If case counts are rising, but so is testing, it’s difficult to decipher whether infections are still increasing or a greater proportion of infected people are being evaluated.

This produces some confusing results in the study for any policymaker looking for clear direction. Notably, in Los Angeles, the estimated growth rate of the disease since the shelter-in-place order went into effect ranges from negative to positive. This suggests either that the city could start loosening restrictions or that it needs to tighten them further.

Ultimately, the researchers stress that communities need to build up disease surveillance measures to reduce this uncertainty, and strike an appropriate balance between reopening the economy and minimizing public health risks.

They propose several ways to do so, including conducting virological testing on a random sample of some 20,000 people per day in a given area; setting up wide-scale online surveys that ask people to report potential symptoms, similar to what Carnegie Mellon researchers are doing through efforts with both Facebook and Google; and potentially testing for the prevalence of viral material in wastewater, a technique that has “sounded the alarm” on polio outbreaks in the past.

A team of researchers affiliated with MIT, Harvard, and startup Biobot Analytics recently analyzed water samples from a Massachusetts treatment facility, and detected levels of the coronavirus that were “significantly higher” than expected on the basis of confirmed cases in the state, according to a non-peer-reviewed paper released earlier this month….(More)”.

From Idea to Reality: Why We Need an Open Data Policy Lab


Stefaan G. Verhulst at Open Data Policy Lab: “The belief that we are living in a data age — one characterized by unprecedented amounts of data, with unprecedented potential — has become mainstream. We regularly read phrases such as “data is the most valuable commodity in the global economy” or that data provides decision-makers with an “ever-swelling flood of information.”

Without a doubt, there is truth in such statements. But they also leave out a major shortcoming — the fact that much of the most useful data continue to remain inaccessible, hidden in silos, behind digital walls, and in untapped “treasuries.”

For close to a decade, the technology and public interest community have pushed the idea of open data. At its core, open data represents a new paradigm of data availability and access. The movement borrows from the language of open source and is rooted in notions of a “knowledge commons”, a concept developed, among others, by scholars like Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom.

Milestones and Limitations in Open Data

Significant milestones have been achieved in the short history of the open data movement. Around the world, an ever-increasing number of governments at the local, state and national levels now release large datasets for the public’s benefit. For example, New York City requires that all public data be published on a single web portal. The current portal site contains thousands of datasets that fuel projects on topics as diverse as school bullying, sanitation, and police conduct. In California, the Forest Practice Watershed Mapper allows users to track the impact of timber harvesting on aquatic life through the use of the state’s open data. Similarly, Denmark’s Building and Dwelling Register releases address data to the public free of charge, improving transparent property assessment for all interested parties.

A growing number of private companies have also initiated or engaged in “Data Collaborative”projects to leverage their private data toward the public interest. For example, Valassis, a direct-mail marketing company, shared its massive address database with community groups in New Orleans to visualize and track block-by-block repopulation rates after Hurricane Katrina. A wide number of data collaboratives are also currently being launched to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Through its COVID-19 Data Collaborative Program, the location-intelligence company Cuebiq is providing researchers access to the company’s data to study, for instance, the impacts of social distancing policies in Italy and New York City. The health technology company Kinsa Health’s US Health Weather initiative is likewise visualizing the rate of fever across the United States using data from its network of Smart Thermometers, thereby providing early indications regarding the location of likely COVID-19 outbreaks.

Yet despite such initiatives, many open data projects (and data collaboratives) remain fledgling — especially those at the state and local level.

Among other issues, the field has trouble scaling projects beyond initial pilots, and many potential stakeholders — private sector and government “owners” of data, as well as public beneficiaries — remain skeptical of open data’s value. In addition, terabytes of potentially transformative data remain inaccessible for re-use. It is absolutely imperative that we continue to make the case to all stakeholders regarding the importance of open data, and of moving it from an interesting idea to an impactful reality. In order to do this, we need a new resource — one that can inform the public and data owners, and that would guide decision-makers on how to achieve open data in a responsible manner, without undermining privacy and other rights.

Purpose of the Open Data Policy Lab

Today, with support from Microsoft and under the counsel of a global advisory board of open data leaders, The GovLab is launching an initiative designed precisely to build such a resource.

Our Open Data Policy Lab will draw on lessons and experiences from around the world to conduct analysis, provide guidance, build community, and take action to accelerate the responsible re-use and opening of data for the benefit of society and the equitable spread of economic opportunity…(More)”.

Transparency Deserts


Paper by Christina Koningisor: “Few contest the importance of a robust transparency regime in a democratic system of government. In the United States, the “crown jewel” of this regime is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Yet despite widespread agreement about the importance of transparency in government, few are satisfied with FOIA. Since its enactment, the statute has engendered criticism from transparency advocates and critics alike for insufficiently serving the needs of both the public and the government. Legal scholars have widely documented these flaws in the federal public records law.

In contrast, scholars have paid comparatively little attention to transparency laws at the state and local level. This is surprising. The role of state and local government in the everyday lives of citizens has increased in recent decades, and many critical government functions are fulfilled by state and local entities today. Moreover, crucial sectors of the public namely, media and advocacy organizations—rely as heavily on state public records laws as they do on FOIA to hold the government to account. Yet these state laws and their effects remain largely overlooked, creating gaps in both local government law and transparency law scholarship.

This Article attempts to fill these gaps by surveying the state and local transparency regime, focusing on public records laws in particular. Drawing on hundreds of public records datasets, along with qualitative interviews, the Article demonstrates that in contrast with federal law, state transparency law introduces comparatively greater barriers to disclosure and comparatively higher burdens upon government. Further, the Article highlights the existence of “transparency deserts,” or localities in which a combination of poorly drafted transparency laws, hostile government actors, and weak local media and civil society impedes effective public oversight of government.

The Article serves as a corrective to the scholarship’s current, myopic focus on federal transparency law…(More)”.

Transformative placemaking amid COVID-19: Early stories from the field


Hanna Love at Brookings: “As COVID-19 leaves no place immune – threatening to destabilize urban communities, as well as rural and suburban areas with limited resources and infrastructure to weather the outbreak— the connectivity of people and places matters more than ever. Local responses to the pandemic are revealing that even amid unprecedented distancing, the economic, physical, social, and civic structures of connected communities are laying the groundwork for resilience and recovery.

In this moment of uncertainty, communities are increasingly seeking solutions from the community-based organizations, networks, and coalitions they know and trust in ordinary times. We at the Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking decided to look to there too, revisiting past entries from our Placemaking Postcards series to uncover how these organizations are responding to the COVID-19 crisis….

Across the country, hyperlocal governance organizations are being called upon to play an expanded role in supporting small businesses. This rang true for each organization we spoke with, as place governance entities in urban and rural areas alike modified their work to include compiling COVID-19 resources for small businesses, redirecting existing funding streams, creating new resources for relief, and offering promotions for customers to purchase local goods and services. Some are even stepping in to manufacture health materials for first responders.

For instance, Philadelphia’s University City District—which we highlighted last year for their efforts to measure inclusion in public spaces—is partnering with the University of Pennsylvania to launch a relief fund for local, independently owned retailers and restaurants. Simultaneously, they are working to bring revenue to local businesses through a matching gift cards program, and are sponsoring local restaurants to prepare meals for families with ill children at the Ronald McDonald House.

Rural place-based organizations are engaging in similar efforts. Appalshop, a Kentucky nonprofit we covered last month for their solar energy project, has raised more than $10,000 for local businesses, nonprofits, and first responders. The community development organization Downtown Wytheville in Virginia (whose rural entrepreneurship competition we wrote about this summer), is helping businesses apply for SBA disaster relief funding and running a “Support Local Safely” campaign to publicize open businesses. In Wyoming, Rawlins DDA/Main Street (whose entrepreneurship center we wrote about last fall), is engaging the public about business needs and offering similar promotions. While seemingly small in scale, all of these efforts are critical supports needed to keep businesses open and will lay the groundwork for recovery in the months to come.

Other place-based organizations are adapting their business models to respond to the crisis. In ordinary times, makerspaces and other innovation spaces provide places to collaborate, support entrepreneurship, and challenge economic and social divides. In the midst of COVID-19, makerspaces are abandoning those routines to support frontline respondersOpen Works—a Baltimore makerspace we covered for their efforts to build trust between residents, businesses, and institutions—has partnered with Innovation Works and We the Builders to launch a collaborative emergency response effort to manufacture face shields for health care workers….(More)”.

Federalism and Polycentric Government in a Pandemic


Paper by Victoria Perez and Justin M. Ross: “Networks of overlapping local governments are the front line of governmental responses to pandemics. Local governments, both general purpose (municipalities, counties, etc.) and special districts (school, fire, police, hospital, etc.), implement state and federal directives while acting as a producer and as a third-party payer in the healthcare system. They possess local information necessary in determining the best use of finite resources and available assets. Furthermore, a liberal society requires voluntary cooperation of citizens skeptical of opportunistic authoritarianism. Therefore, successful local governance instills a reassuring division of political power.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created two significant challenges for local governments in their efforts to respond effectively to the crisis: public finance and intergovernmental collaboration. This brief recommends practical solutions to meet these challenges….(More)”.