The analogy between the internet and the smart cities I wrote about a few weeks ago is not only based on the similarity in opportunities. Much like the internet, the smart city is also subject to social and cultural dilemmas like privacy and security. A city tracking its citizens, even for helpful reasons, impacts the personal liberty we count on in public spaces.
Smart city projects rely on sophisticated infrastructure that governments aren’t capable of creating themselves. The crucial software systems and networks that underlie city services will likely lie in private hands. Smart grid utility-metering systems, for instance, collect and transmit detailed energy consumption information, which help consumers understand their energy use but can also reveal their habits. As such, they have come under fire for threatening privacy and civil liberties. This could be as simple as your Nest Thermostat being part of the Google Ecosystem and they might use your Nest data to serve better ads, or your Nest data ending up in the analytical software of NSA-like parties.
There are at least three classes of security and privacy issues that may result:
- protecting the connected assets from attack;
- protecting the data gathered from those assets from misuse;
- protecting the privacy of individuals whose assets may be supplying the data (via, e.g., electric meters or connected cars).
A big challenge for smart cities is combining with, and migrating away from, legacy systems throughout the city. The smart city is as good the software it uses is therefore a common saying. However, the same goes for privacy and security.
A smart city is as secure and private as the software it uses.