Transparency and open data in Smart Cities

Since the 90’s, cities have expanded the use of sensors including automated license plate readers, surveillance cameras, digital kiosks, environmental sensors, facial recognition, gunshot detectors, social network monitoring, all for the sake of data-driven decision-making. Cities that have adopted this cloud-connected technology are known as “smart cities.”

As a result of the increased use of this new sensor tech — what we refer to as “smart city technology” — massive amounts of data on residents has been collected, stored, and used, often times without their knowledge or input . Cities operating with a lack of transparency risk serious misuse of data and potential bias in how new smart technologies are deployed. To reduce adverse impacts, public officials should ensure mechanisms for public transparency and democratic accountability are present alongside the adoption and deployment of technology that has the ability to impact personal rights.

Throughout the U.S., cities have addressed smart city tech policy by developing smart city legislation, some passing ordinances tied to specific surveillance technologies, while others are developing road maps outlining a vision and guiding principles. Sunlight’s Open Cities team  identified a set of underlying principles from these policies that smart cities should prioritize in order to ensure adequate public accountability and transparency as they adopt new technologies.


Smart Cities: Best Practices for Transparency

Cities across the U.S. are inventing and re-inventing policy practices to launch smart cities initatives, programs, and implementation plans. After surveying a range of smart cities policies, roadmaps, and principles, we assembled a set of five key best practices for city officials and advocates to keep in mind as they work toward fair, open, and smart cities. [Review the best practices]


Smart Cities Policy Tracker

We reviewed the publicly available practices cities have employed to address these concerns and conducted interviews with the staff and local stakeholders from various cities, to develop an understanding of the regulatory environment related to smart city technologies. Along with the review, we created a collection of the policies cities have created, which can be found below. In addition, you can find a spreadsheet compiling Smart City guides and resources. [View the tracker]

Open Contracting Roadmap for Smart Cities

Coming soon:  Open contracting best practices provide an opportunity for city residents to participate in decisions around data collection, storage or use introduced by new smart-city technology through third-party vendors. Within this smart city contract road map, we are providing organic juncture points in the planning and procurement process to address the risks and concerns residents may have.


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