- Cities "struggle" with managing the enormous amount of data they collect and deciding what they need and how to protect it, said Seattle Chief Privacy Officer Ginger Armbruster at an event Tuesday morning in Washington, DC hosted by media company Axios.
- Armbruster said the city’s Privacy Program has helped shape policy and "build trust in the public" about its work with data. She suggested that, by setting out guidelines and partnering with the private sector and each other, cities can be successful in data collection.
- "We collect an enormous amount of data in the city, and it is a struggle to figure out how do we collect what we need and only what we need, follow the laws on what needs to be shared and what needs to be used, but also figure out how to protect it, especially for vulnerable populations," Armbruster said.
During her remarks, Armbruster noted that cities and municipalities are "ground zero" for data as they collect so much, on things as innocuous as utility bill and property tax payments, or interactions with the city’s individual Department of Transportation or first responders. Armbruster acknowledged the "tension between collecting data, delivering services, protecting property and people but also protecting data," but says it has built trust with six privacy principles in its program.
Seattle’s relationship with its data has been fraught at times, including when faced with Washington’s Public Records Act, which has very few exemptions for what kinds of data can be obtained through a public records request.
And earlier this year, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raised eyebrows in the city when it issued an administrative subpoena for information on a customer with Seattle City Light, the city’s electric utility. "Suddenly information that was designed to deliver electricity and billing was being used for other purposes, and that became a wake-up call for how data can be used in ways we didn't anticipate," Armbruster said.
Data management has become an increasingly important part of city government, with more and more employing a Chief Data Officer or similar position to stay on top of what they have and promote best practices. And Armbruster said that while it has been helpful for Seattle to be so close to technology giants willing to try and innovate to use data and solve problems, cities should also be willing to work together on issues and help each other out. "Reach out, you're not alone," she said, adding that "needs can be met when you work in tandem."