Greg Lindsay's Blog

May 20, 2021  |  permalink

GovTech: Will Data Privacy Issues Affect New Orleans’ Broadband Push?

GovTech’s Skip Descant was kind enough to quote me at length in his story about New Orleans’s “Advanced Broadband and Smart City” RFP that proposes coupling widespread municipal broadband (good) with surveillance capitalism tech to pay for it (bad). Here are a few of my thoughts:

A lack of regulation in areas like consumer data protection can stymie smart city projects. One of the most high-profile rollbacks of urban technology was in San Diego, where city officials pumped the brakes on the data collection of thousands of smart streetlights following a wave of resident concerns around how that data was shared, particularly with police. Controversies about government-sanctioned surveillance have only become more pronounced in the wake of national awareness around equity and social justice following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis last year.

“I’m worried about things like what happened in San Diego, for example,” said Greg Lindsay, director of applied research at NewCities, expressing concern about large-scale smart city deployment in the absence of strong consumer data protection and regulation.

Several consumer data protection bills have been introduced in Louisiana but have failed to advance, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

One approach, said Lindsay, may be to separate the broadband expansion part of the initiative from the smart city efforts, as a way to avoid attaching equity to “this classic surveillance capitalist approach.”

“This is an important conversation at every level, as we’ve seen the call for a national rural broadband rollout as part of President Biden’s infrastructure bill,” Lindsay said. “So there is this sort of widespread understanding that broadband is essential. However, that it actually includes these provisions here about widespread surveillance technology as part of it raises all sorts of red flags.”

“It’s really the question of ‘How do you ensure that it’s being kept from police?’” he added. “I think there should be a conversation that goes beyond New Orleans about this.”

A 2018 investigation by The Verge uncovered a partnership between the New Orleans Police Department and Palantir, a Silicon Valley technology company, which used software to trace residents’ ties to criminal activity or gang membership. The program was disclosed to neither the city council nor residents, the investigation found.

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Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is the director of applied research at NewCities and director of strategy at its mobility offshoot CoMotion.  He is also a partner at FutureMap, a geo-strategic advisory firm based in Singapore, a non-resident senior fellow of The Atlantic Council’s Foresight, Strategy, and Risks Initiative, and co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next.

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