- The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maine attorney Emma Bond has expressed concerns about data-driven smart city initiatives being rolled out in the city of Portland, according to the Portland Press Herald.
- Portland is one of the first cities in Maine to pursue smart street light technologies including Wi-Fi, and the Herald reports that the city is also considering installing sensors and video cameras in the lights for the purpose of providing data to increase public safety and operational efficiencies.
- Though City Manager Jon Jennings has clarified these technologies wouldn't be used for the purpose of surveillance, Bond isn't quite convinced. Bond told the Herald, "There should be rules about how [video surveillance] can be used ... We need to have a public conversation about whether this is the type of city Portland wants to be, and so far we haven’t had that conversation. For Portland to move forward without having that discussion is premature."
The evolution of technology — especially in the realm of video and audio recording — has long induced "Big Brother" concerns, driven by groups like ACLU that prioritize the protection of privacy. The Herald cites a 2015 blog post from ACLU advocacy and policy counsel Chad Marlow, in which he writes, " ...Although these surveillance bulbs may have beneficial uses, I think we would be far better off keeping our privacy, finding other ways to combat full trash cans and traffic congestion, and not bringing mass surveillance to lights."
Yet, as seen with the growing popularity of smart street lights and the benefits these advancements can have on cities, there's arguably no reversing the trend. Video surveillance, sensors and scanners are all crucial tools for data collection and analysis — the backbone of the growing "smart city" phenomenon. Some private companies have gone as far as to develop surveillance cameras with facial recognition tech. Public, private and advocacy organizations may reject these new technologies out of hand, or they may take a more nuanced approach and balance their benefits with proactive privacy measures in mind.
In a January interview with Smart Cities Dive, Santa Clara County Chief Privacy Officer Mike Shapiro highlighted the importance of counties and cities no longer thinking of privacy "as an afterthought." As smart tech opportunities arise, cities will need to ensure privacy practices and training are developed with any investment or installation. He touted the importance of appointing a chief privacy officer in every local government, noting, "...The protection of people and their information is becoming more and more important every day as we start seeing ... data breaches becoming more prevalent."
While Bond is fair in suggesting public conversations are important to put community concerns at ease, the bigger opportunity lies in the way cities act on their promises to protect privacy and personal data within those communities.