Smart cities need data (here is how to build trust to get it)

Have you deleted your Facebook account? Half a million people threatened to in the wake of a privacy scandal. While Facebook claims few did, the incident has people talking about privacy — something most used to take for granted.

So what are cities doing to earn the public’s trust? Judging from a few notable cases over the past month, they need to be doing a lot more. Consider that cybercriminals shut down many of Atlanta’s computer systems for five days or more. And security experts showed how easy it is to take over San Francisco’s tsunami warning sirens.

Smart cities are built upon smart use of data, but to get it, you need to convince citizens to trust you with it. And don’t miss this companion piece from Council Associate Partner Ice Miller about legal consequences for failing to take action. — Kevin Ebi

1. Secure your systems.
The threats are real. Just ask Atlanta where police officers had to take reports with paper and pen after cybercriminals scrambled most of the city’s computer systems. Even a week after the attack, the city couldn’t process water and sewage bills or issue business licenses online. Its municipal court couldn’t even process payments in-person and had to reschedule some hearings.

Then this week, a security company discovered a vulnerability in San Francisco’s tsunami warning sirens. With a laptop and a $30 radio, researchers discovered they could trigger an alarm or broadcast their own message. (A hacker triggered all of Dallas’s warning sirens last year.)

Hackers were not able to view sensitive information in either case; however, cities need to be sensitive to the fact that breaches or the potential for systems to be breached can make citizens uneasy about data projects.

2. Be clear on how you’re protecting data.
Have a clear privacy policy, and work with experts and the community to create it. Seattle provides a great privacy policy roadmap.

Seattle teamed up with experts at the University of Washington to craft the first draft and then made sure the community had ample opportunity to comment before it was finalized. To further reduce privacy risk, open data champions within the city examine data sets before they are released. It also worked with the Future of Privacy Forum to identify and close other privacy gaps.

3. Concentrate on delivering value.
Smart cities projects are all about delivering meaningful results to the community, so you may want to consider efforts to make that value clear as you’re making plans to collect data.

Fairfax County, Virginia, offers an example worth following. The county, one of our 2018 Readiness Challenge finalists, hosted a Readiness Workshop last month and one of its focus areas was to use data to promote healthy body weights.

A working group determined more data would help the county devise more effective strategies. As part of the post-workshop action steps, participants went beyond simply looking for ways to collect the data. They listed steps to clearly explain to the public why the data was needed, how it would be used and offer examples of how it would help.

In terms of building the public’s trust in regards to data, communications can be as important as collections.