India’s Smart Cities Mission: Big Data and the Issue of Privacy

While there’s no single definition, the term “Smart City” generally refers to cities using information technology to solve numerous urban problems. A ‘smart city’ is an urban region which is highly advanced in terms of overall infrastructure, sustainable real estate, communications, essential public service and market feasibility.[1] In  the  year  2014,  the  Indian  Government  had  announced  to build  100  smart  cities across  the country in light of the shift towards urban transformation due to massive inflow of migrants from villages.[2] In July 2015, the Government of India published the ‘Smart City Mission Statement and Guidelines’. The vision of Smart Cities Mission is to drive comprehensive physical, institutional, social and economic infrastructure development.[3] In May 2016, the Indian Government announced that 100 smart cities will be developed in five years.[4]

Exploring the ICTs, smart cities offer sensors monitoring water system, energy usage, traffic flows, and security cameras to make residents’ life easier. Every smart city generates huge data, and store and send that data directly to city administrators. Or apps that help residents navigate traffic, report potholes and vote. Or garbage collection that’s totally automated.[5] The City Administrators would store, analyse and transfer data to other departments or third parties to avail different service. The same would apply for proposed Indian Smart Cities. Thus, Big Data and data analytics will certainly play a huge role in such transformation, in which different ICT tools and technologies will act as a mediator to gather and store data.

The Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules 2011[6] deals with the accountability regarding personal and sensitive data security and protection as it applies to ‘body corporates’[7] and digital data.

Therefore, it can be established that anyone collecting and using Big Data for the smart cities in India would be excluded from the scope of these Rules. This highlights the lack of a suitable regulatory framework to deal potential privacy challenges in smart cities.[8]

The list of 20 smart cities out of the 98 shortlisted for the ‘Smart Cities Mission’ was released in January 2016.[9] As these 20 cities will be the first to receive funds, they will start developing infrastructures very soon. It is believed that authorities would install a number of sensors around these cities. This will be done through collecting, analysing large amounts of data – from information about available parking spaces, emergency systems, naming streets roads with low traffic, water and electricity usage and even refuse levels etc. and then finding problems or taking decisions. Thus, leveraging the data and using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to collect valuable information are some common techniques that are used in smart cities to make cities smarter. The other sources of data would be from fire alarms, disaster management situations and energy saving mechanisms and etc. that would sense, communicate, analyse and combine information across platforms to generate big data to facilitate decision making process and manage services in smart cities.

It is a city where information technology is the principal infrastructure and the basis for providing essential services to residents. There are many technological platforms involved, including but not limited to automated sensor networks and data centres.

According to the Government of India’s Department of Electronics and Information Technology, the government’s plan to develop smart cities in the country could lead to a massive expansion of an Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem within the country.[10] The draft IoT policy aims to develop IoT products in this domain by using Big Data for government decision-making processes. In India a key opportunity of using big data analytics in smart cities is with regard to traffic management and congestion. Collecting data during peak hours, processing information in real time and using GIS data and also using GPS history from mobile phones can give insight into the routes taken and modes of transportation preferred by commuters to deal with huge traffic.[11]

However, the larger question is whether the government is equipped enough to protect the privacy of citizens in smart cities? The digital space can be easily hacked as we have noticed several instances in the recent past. So, initiatives like Smart Cities Mission must be accompanied or rather preceded by a Privacy or Data Protection law.

 

[1] Govt. announces list of first 20 smart cities under ‘Smart Cities Mission’. Accessed on 23/04/2016 and accessed from http://bit.ly/1JHF3Eb

[2] Tolan. C, (2014). Cities of the future? Indian PM pushes plan for 100 ‘smart cities’. Accessed on 29/04/2016 and accessed from http://edition.cnn.com/2014/07/18/world/asia/india-modi-smart-cities/

[3] Smart City: Mission Statements and Guidelines Accessed on 29/04/2016 from http://bit.ly/1hHBqBq

[4] Live: Parliament proceedings — ‘100 smart cities will be developed in five years’. Accessed on 12/05/2016 and accessed from http://bit.ly/1TYRkoN

[5] Tolan. C, (2014). Cities of the future? Indian PM pushes plan for 100 ‘smart cities’. Accessed on 29/04/2016 and accessed from http://edition.cnn.com/2014/07/18/world/asia/india-modi-smart-cities/

[6] Please find details about the The Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules 2011 at  http://bit.ly/1KXFuqN

[7] A ‘body corporate’ is “any company and includes a firm, sole proprietorship or other association of individuals engaged in commercial or professional activities” under the IT Act 2008.

[8] Rakesh. V, (2016). Too Clever By Half: Strengthening India’s Smart Cities Plan with Human Rights Protection. http://bit.ly/1RuV0B1

[9] Govt. announces list of first 20 smart cities under ‘Smart Cities Mission’. Accessed on 23/04/2016 and accessed from http://bit.ly/1JHF3Eb

[10] Draft Policy on Internet of Things. Department of Electronics & Information Technology (DeitY). Ministry of Communication and Information Technology Government of India. Accessed on 25/04/2016 and accessed from http://bit.ly/22flSGu

[11] Singh.R.P. Smart Traffic Management With Real Time Data Analysis. http://bit.ly/1TXMWXi

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