Security, Privacy, Governance Concerns About Smart City Technologies Grow

Source: Government Technology

As urban centers expand their reliance on automated sensors and algorithms, they increase risks of data security breaches, vulnerabilities to invasions of privacy and concerns about software reliability. 

The demand for smart city technologies shows little sign of slowing down, which comes as no surprise. Cities are growing in size and population, and the need for digital tools and systems to help manage everything from traffic and public safety to garbage and parking meters continues unabated. Technology spending for the global smart city market is expected to reach $27.5 billion by 2023, according to market research company Navigant Research. 

But as urban centers expand their reliance on automated sensors and algorithms that improve productivity, sustainability and engagement, they increase risks of data security breaches, vulnerabilities to invasions of privacy and concerns about software reliability. And as cities rely more on data to drive their decision-making, it raises the concern that technocratic governance could begin to replace the traditional political process that’s more deliberative and citizen-centered.

So far, problems with smart city technology have happened at a slow pace, but some of the incidents have been alarming. A software bug closed down San Francisco’s subway system three years ago, temporarily trapping some riders underground. In 2006, during a labor strike, two Los Angeles traffic engineers were accused of hacking smart traffic light systems that created gridlock that lasted for several days. In 2012, the traffic management system for a major artery in the port city of Haifa, Israel, was also hacked. And two years ago, a researcher at a security firm blogged about how easy it was to hack into Washington, D.C.’s traffic signals, which lacked any security controls.

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Chelsea Collier