Brian Sims

Certainty over data security and privacy “will increase smart cities’ potential”

SUCCESS FOR smart city projects is dependent on earning citizens’ trust in the presence of technology, the collection of data and the privacy of information. This is the key finding of an excellent White Paper sponsored by network video specialist Axis Communications and co-authored by subject matter experts James Willison MSyI and Sarb Sembhi CISM.

The 25-page White Paper has been produced in order to bring attention to the many benefits afforded by the modern smart city. However, those benefits are being hampered somewhat by significant barriers to development.

Research conducted by The Internet Society on exploring consumer attitudes to the Internet of Things has suggested that 63% of those individuals interviewed find the way in which connected devices collect data about people and their behaviours ‘creepy’. It’s these very same individuals who are those that must be absolutely convinced of the benefits to be realised from data collection  and assured of the safety of that data when it’s gathered in a smart city environment.

Improved waste reduction, better public transport services and even lighting and heating efficiencies are some of the benefits of the smart city made possible through the use of devices and sensors and the data they collect. That said, such optimisation of resources, reasons the White Paper, is only achievable when privacy impact assessments are conducted at the right time for them to be effective and a reassured general public can then more confidently understand the need to process and draw insights from collected information.

Degree of apprehension

James Willison (founder of Unified Security Ltd) explained: “The benefits of smart cities have long been recognised by all key stakeholders, but the greatest and most important stakeholders are wary of smart city authorities and technology providers not only collecting and holding data about them, but also connecting that information with other data they already hold.”

Clearly, this is a process requiring service providers to do everything in their power to create an environment of inherent trust, strong privacy and ethical behaviour by default. The way in which smart city projects are planned needs to change, according to Willison, with privacy and data protection considered from the outset.

Sarb Sembhi (CTO at Virtually Informed) added: “Effective privacy and good ethics lead to greater trust from citizens, thus contributing towards their overall happiness. Smart city authorities can demonstrate this element of trust and showcase citizen happiness. In the White Paper, we’ve outlined the key risks and also highlighted Best Practice techniques to achieve success.”

Full transparency

With trust playing such a critical role in terms of how people interact with their environment, smart city project planners simply must address the way in which the use of data is communicated, thereby ensuring full transparency.

The use of technology and the analysis of data can only be successful when citizens trust the technology around them and can be completely sure of its purpose. This leads to important ethical considerations around the collection, analysis and processing of information.

Steven Kenny, industry liaison for system architecture and engineering at Axis Communications (and who has written the Foreword for the White Paper), stated: “To engender trust in a smart city, its data must never be collected or stored without good reason, while connections between data collected and personal identity should be made only when necessary. Building systems now based on this philosophy not only helps to improve the level of citizen trust, but it also theoretically makes the transition to potential new privacy rules that much easier.”

Trust “must be earned”

Trust must be earned not only by those constructing the broad systems that unite a smart city, but also by those who provide the individual elements of a smart city’s infrastructure. For their part, system vendors have a ‘double duty’ in that they must equally work to reassure citizens as well as local Governments.

Those entities involved need to know that their privacy concerns are being met. Certainly, the constructors of smart cities require secure hardware that will last both in a physical and logical sense.

Kenny concluded: “Ethics, privacy and trust must be the core tenets of any smart city project. These are the ‘convincers’ that will bring citizens on board. Once the infrastructure is in place and the benefits of smart cities truly come to light, people may well begin to wonder how they ever managed without access to live data, without cleaner air and clearer streets and without the predictive models which offer them access to everything they need.”

*Download copies of the White Paper entitled ‘The Role of Trust in Happiness and Well-Being in Smart Cities’

Company Info

Axis Communications

6/7 Ladygrove Court
Hitchwood Lane


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