It seems that if government or big business put the word “smart” in front of any initiative it becomes instantaneously exciting and everyone rushes to be part of the new “smart” topic.

We have had smart meters, smart cars, smart phones and now the talk is about smart cities.

Major cities around the world are announcing their smart initiatives like Manchester, Adelaide, Chicago and London but when public authorities and big business invest in something so smart it seems that the citizen is often their last thought. The smart money is on how to profit from big data, internet of things and connected autonomous vehicles and to become “real smart”!

However a number of privacy groups and thought leaders are asking the question as to how smart cities will work unless there is investment in creating smart citizens.

The citizen often has little idea as to how the technology works, why the technology is needed and what happens to their privacy in a smart environment. There is no doubt that there are positive outcomes from the use of big data but the privacy rights and human dignity of citizens should be addressed at the beginning of a project rather than at the end.

For the last few years regulators have been calling for governments, big business and technology developers to adopt privacy by design and more recently cyber risks have led the same regulators to call for security by default.

The data protection laws of many countries call for transparency and accountability as to how personal data is being used, and in a smart city there are so many interconnected smart devices processing personal data that it can be a challenge for the citizen to know to whom they should turn when they have concerns about how their personal data is being used. Since data protection and safe use of technology is not part of the school curricular, there are generations of citizens that are not so smart at all.

Smart citizens need to ask questions such as:

  • Why do we need smart cities?
  • How will my rights be managed?
  • Who will have access to my personal data?
  • What rights do I have to control my personal data?
  • Where will my data go?
  • When will I get any benefits from the use of my personal data by others?

Before we allow smart cities to outsmart the rest of us we should be not only seeking to comply with the law but also adopting an ethical approach towards the protection of the rights of individuals in relation to their personal data.