Albert-Seubers

Privacy by design: Securing a data-driven city

Albert Seubers

Atos Director, Global Strategy Smart X

While each smart city evolves in its own way, what they all share is their critical ability to leverage data to enable people to make better-informed decisions. However, with information and intelligence shared extensively between city authorities, third parties and citizens, it must be done in a way that protects and maintains the privacy of citizens.

Privacy by design

Some time ago, I was involved in a project to collect data from cameras located across
a city and analyze it in real time to alert the police and other authorities of potential disruptions. In designing the solution, we followed the strict principles of “privacy by design,” which mandate using only minimal data sets — that is, not capturing or storing any more data than you need — and always anonymizing data.

In this case, the data analytics were applied at the edge (within the camera itself) and people were presented only as red dots on a map so their movement patterns could be analyzed to indicate potential incidents. This solution ensured that the authorities had the data they needed for rapid decision making without invading citizens’ privacy.

Accessing and controlling data

Of course, in a smart — or data-driven — city, the really “smart” thing is to be able to structure and organize the same data for multiple purposes or use cases. To achieve this, data is collected from multiple sources (such as video cameras, sound detection sensors, waste bin sensors, etc.) and stored in “lakes” of data, with each data lake relating to one specific use case. For example, if a camera detects a car entering and leaving a parking lot in order to calculate how long it was parked, it may also collect the car’s vehicle registration number — but this will be stored in a different data lake for a different purpose (such as administering road or vehicle tax).

Collecting and using data in this way requires that data is anonymized either by being analyzed at the edge (as in the video example above) or de-identified when it is in motion (just as with any kind of online money transfer). It also requires data access to be strictly controlled to prevent any breaches of privacy, such as ensuring that a picture or profile of a person or object cannot be built up over time by assembling individual pieces of data.

Holistic solution

An integrated end-to-end technological solution and governance will address every one of these requirements to ensure the availability, integrity and security of data in a smart city. Artificial intelligence and automation ensure that each data lake is only accessed and used for its intended purpose. Context broker technology ensures that the source and timing of each piece of data is known in order to understand its value, meaning and urgency. Secure IoT services ensure the flow of data across the connected city. Edge computing provides enough power to process and analyze data out in the network. Identity access management solutions — including two-factor authentication — ensure that access to data is strictly controlled, with a clear audit trail.

Changing perceptions

To deliver this type of integrated solution, an end-to-end cybersecurity strategy is essential to prevent cyber attacks and data breaches. Yet it’s not just cyber incidents that need to be pre-empted and managed: events such as power outages and accidents can affect data flow, which is why cities need a bridge view (from a central operations room) of their sensor networks to gain visibility of how and where all data points are working.

Inevitably, city leaders, technology partners and others are having ongoing discussions about what’s possible when it comes to maximizing the value of data within accepted ethics and privacy limits. Yet, with the right technological expertise and infrastructure, it is perfectly possible to ensure privacy by design. If citizens see the value of leveraging data while knowing that their privacy is protected, public perception can shift to see the benefits of devices such as surveillance technologies and accelerate the evolution to a truly data-driven city.

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