On February 14, Prof. Teresa Scassa appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. The Committee is currently conducting hearings related to the topic of Infrastructure and Smart Communities.
The term “smart communities” is used to describe communities that make use of digital sensors and data analytics in order to monitor and evaluate things such as the status of existing infrastructure, and patterns of usage or activity. While the technology for smart communities offers enormous potential to improve decision-making, enhance planning and maximize the efficient use of resources, there are significant public policy issues relating to design, acquisition and deployment. Some of these issues concern data standards (ensuring that data from different systems or in different provinces or municipalities can be used in combination with other available data, for example). Other issues involve critical questions of cybersecurity.
Prof. Scassa’s comments addressed issues that she has been exploring as part of the SSHRC-funded interdisciplinary research partnership Geothink. Prof. Scassa raised concerns about the need for municipalities and other levels of government to ensure they have the rights to data for which they have contracted (to facilitate transparency, data reuse, open data and innovation). She also addressed privacy issues. Dr. Scassa noted that smart communities gather data from a broad range of sensors, some of which include individuals. For example, smart card technologies for public transit collect considerable data about the movements of individuals. Other smart technologies that raise privacy issues include traffic and red light cameras, and GPS sensors on municipal vehicles (buses, emergency vehicles, snow plows, etc.). The privacy issues are often complex and should not be overlooked in the development of smart communities.