A new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) think tank argues that local governments need to balance the interests of innovation and privacy when adopting new smart-cities technologies.

ITIF acknowledged the benefits of smart cities – including managing public transportation, improving traffic flow, and addressing crime – but said cities must strike a balance between maximizing potential benefits with maintaining public trust by ensuring data protection and privacy.

“Data collection powers smart cities and communities, yet privacy issues continue to stall progress,” said Ashley Johnson, a senior policy analyst at ITIF and the author of the report. “Cities and communities need to balance the cybersecurity risks, commercial use of data, and potential government surveillance against other more prevalent concerns like public safety, sustainability, the beneficial uses of data, and cost.”

In the report, ITIF offers examples of a variety of applications of data collection for smart cities, highlighting how government services ranging from the energy grid and water management to trash cans and lighting can best utilize smart technologies. However, the report acknowledges concerns from privacy advocates, including that smart cities may share data with private partners as a cost-defraying tool, and that communities may engage in government surveillance of individuals.

In response to the tension between benefits and concerns, the report concludes that “cities and communities that balance safety and privacy, instead of sacrificing one in favor of the other, will reap the benefits of these new and emerging technologies, while other cities that utilize blanket bans will fall behind.”

ITIF offered a handful of recommendations for cities and communities looking to adopt more smart city technologies.

ITIF said cities and communities should:

  • Prioritize cybersecurity, such as by setting high security requirements for procuring Internet-connected devices, encrypting smart city data, conducting regular risk assessments, and transitioning to cloud computing;
  • Engage in vendor management when partnering with private companies to provide smart city applications; and
  • Anonymize any personal data they collect to reduce the potential threat to individuals’ privacy.

Additionally, ITIF said cities and communities should not require third parties to turn over sensitive personal data about their users as a condition of operating in the city. The report also said that state lawmakers should set rules on accountability and transparency for law enforcement use of smart city data, such as from surveillance cameras and gunshot detection technology.

“Ultimately, Congress needs to pass comprehensive federal data privacy legislation,” said Johnson. “That would protect all Americans while allowing room for data-driven innovations, including smart city applications.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs