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Urban life presents a panoply of options for those fortunate enough to be able to enjoy it. The modern boulevardier can be present in the city, enjoying both public and private spaces in comfortable anonymity, knowing that she may be observed but that she will not be known except to her friends and those that she chooses to engage with. She is in control of what she discloses about herself. When she communicates with others she co-creates and co-manages the rules of sharing her data with them. It’s not always perfect, but people have been negotiating and managing these boundaries since first we started communicating.

A truly ‘smart’ city is one where the built digital and physical environments safely and securely adapt to and encourage individual autonomy, private interactions and public life. It starts by placing the individual at the centre of their own data - replicating our everyday presentation of self to the physical world. The appropriation of the digital self without the full involvement of the person is as egregious an infringement on the human condition as the appropriation of the physical self.

A smart city is built on open data

Today’s city is filled with sensors, devices and networks providing or supporting services for the people, governments and businesses of that city. Mini weather stations collect environmental data. Cameras capture still and video images of the streets and sidewalks, of the people and the vehicles. Cell phone systems track mobile devices to maintain connectivity. Wi-Fi access points provide Internet access. As much of this data as possible should be anonymous open data, available to all. Open and anonymous data enables innovation and provides the kind of transparency that builds civic trust.

A smart city minimizes the collection of personal information

People moving through the city inevitably leave a digital trail and have a reasonable expectation of privacy. That means the information about people can’t be open data. It must be de-identified, anonymized or aggregated as close to the collection point as possible. Demonstrably minimizing the collection of personal information builds institutional trust. Where individual data is collected with the intention of being used, the individual needs to know that they will be able to control how that data is used – either by themselves or through an organization that acts in each person’s interests.

A smart city protects personal information in the best interests of the individual

Personal information can enable personalized services for individuals. But who determines if a particular use of data is in the individual’s interest? There are too many collection points and services for most people to manage themselves. People need to trust an organization to act on their behalf. And people’s interests are too varied to expect a single organization to represent this diversity. This is the role of multiple organizations acting as trusted information fiduciaries, or trusts, on behalf of the individual. Individuals can select a data trust organization that best matches their interests. And where individuals haven’t nominated a data trust, the default trust must follow a privacy by design approach and minimize the collection, use, disclosure and retention of personal data. Essentially this will mean that the only allowable default uses are the uses that are mandated specifically by law and NOT including commercial profiling or advertising. Individuals can choose between data trusts to serve their interests and enable the services that they choose.

A smart city uses available technology to empower the individual

This vision is both achievable and practicable today. Policies and regulations can create and support fiduciary information trusts. Information collection can be minimized at source. There are technical protocols and standards for data receipts, user managed access, or digital information sharing agreements. Existing technologies can build a privacy preserving and trusted smart city.

The question is not whether a human-centric smart city can be built. The question is whether the citizen will be put at the center of their own data to make a wise city.