There is mounting fears among a section of intellectuals that data collection and analysis, which are the backbone of running Smart Cities efficiently and effectively, might undermine citizens’ privacy.
The real-time analysis of data procured over various electronic platforms has become integral to the development of infrastructure, planning and policy formulation in developing Smart Cities.
The big data collected from social media, cellphone usage patterns and mobile networks has become instrumental in the planning of cities, enabling a form of urban development that allows for an efficient and (close to) an equitable allocation of resources.
Smart Cities can run effectively only if civic authorities receive inputs including behavioural patterns of the citizens. That would reflect in the cyber footprint of the citizens so that authorities can create a system of predictable assessment—one that would be able to deliver specific services to meet people’s requirements.
Smart cities use a refined and significantly more accurate method of enabling data collection. A central framework of sensors is used to determine the movement and behaviour of communities of individuals in real-time.
Another popular model has been to use crowdsourced information from applications that have been developed by private companies. They organise data into easily retrievable sets, which reveal information on economic demographics, housing and travel patterns of populations, thus attuning the raw data to the needs of the public.
Innovative technologies such as big data assessments could infringe upon citizen’s private life. The trend has shown that technology and the law have a high propensity to “leapfrog” over each other.
When a new law is put in place to address concerns raised by the latest technology, inevitable technological advances will only lead to the law being circumvented.
There is an increasingly pressing need to match the utilisation of big data in cities with adequate safeguards to prevent breaches of information security, thus combining the exponential growth of technology with assurances of protection of the privacy of individual citizens.
Experts point out that meaningful privacy protection can be achieved in a big data future through a combination of traditional regulation, ‘soft’ regulation and the development of big data ethics.