Research group at imec & Vrije Universiteit Brussel


imec-SMIT-VUB researchers contribute to Dutch DPA report on smart cities with a reflection note

The Dutch DPA (Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens) has published a path-leading research report on the protection of personal data in smart cities in the Netherlands. The report is the result of an investigation of the DPA on the development of Dutch smart cities. Yet, as the importance of public spaces and fundamental rights, and the challenges cities face in becoming smart are similar in Europe, its findings and recommendations are relevant beyond the Netherlands.

Among other things, the report stresses the importance of Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs) and recommends their publication to enable accountability about data processing in the public space. It calls for local authorities to develop policies for data protection in smart cities and to go beyond siloed, project-specific approaches. Municipal councils should be involved in smart cities’ development, and educated on data protection matters, as this enables them to carry out their democratic tasks and democratic control over smart technologies. Citizens involvement is also deemed crucial by the DPA, especially in the mapping of risks of smart city applications. In particular the aspect of involving citizens in DPIAs was highly welcomed by the researchers of imec-SMIT-VUB, who have been emphasising this for several years.

The report aims to not only provide guidance on local authorities, but also launch a broader dialogue on the present and future of smart cities. To this end, it includes two independent reflections which, in reaction to the report, outline certain challenges and visions for smart cities. We are delighted that researchers from imec-SMIT/VUB and CITIP/KUL working on the SPECTRE research project (FWO) were invited to provide one of the reflections. Drawing from the research in SPECTRE, the reflection calls for leveraging Article 35(9) GDPR to transform DPIAs into participatory processes that involve citizens. It also raises the potential of administrative law mechanisms to enhance the level of data protection in smart cities. For instance, cities could create participatory processes that require the mapping and strategic assessment of cumulative impacts of multiple smart city projects. Importantly, because of the close involvement of private vendors in the development of smart cities, it is crucial to leverage public procurement as a strategic tool for rights-respectful smart cities.

The reflection was written by Athena Christofi (CITIP/KUL), Jonas Breuer (imec-SMIT-VUB), Ellen Wauters (CITIP/KUL) and Olia Kanevskaia (CITIP/KUL).

Click here for the full report and the reflection.

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[Photo by Lianhao Qu on Unsplash]