Smart city (cities) sound a lot like sci-fi movies, yet that is where we are headed. A smart city uses ICT (Information and communication technologies) to improve efficiency and service quality. A smart city is not about the installation of high-tech digital infrastructure, but also about using the technology and data to make informed decisions and delivering a better quality of life for all its citizens.

Comprehensive and real-time data collected gives the cities’ administration the ability to watch unfolding events, understand the evolving demand patterns and respond to issues using timely and cost-efficient solutions.

Smart city (cities) will have benefits such as:

●  Traffic management

Using the Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS), a smart city can effectively reduce traffic congestion and improve safety. Proper traffic management increases the city’s efficiency in providing services.

Some smart cities are adopting the decentralized systems in road intersections that make use of radar and video detection, which helps to detect when there is traffic and to adjust signals via AI-driven software in real-time, which helps in forecasting challenges that might crop up in the future.

Signs on electric boards help commuters have access to information on any upcoming events such as accidents or congestions. This allows them to plan their commute and prevents traffic pile-ups. Smart parking systems guide vehicles to allocated parking spaces via vehicles guidance systems. The drivers get notifications on parking availability in different spots in the city after booking a parking slot online.

●  Public safety

With CCTV and smart streetlights everywhere, the safety of the citizens in smart cities is greatly enhanced. Smart city lights provide a reduction in energy waste by reducing the cost of energy and maintenance. AI is the driving force behind smart cities, and this technology assists law enforcement officers and makes their operations safer and more efficient.

Smart video analytics differentiate between normal and abnormal activities and then highlight the appropriate footage for the law enforcers. This allows the law enforcement officers to reduce the hours of footage they would have to watch. This also changes the conventional video capture into an effective tool that improves productivity, and criminal activities can be solved faster.

Video analytics pull human attention to the things that matter more and bring crucial events to a law enforcement agent’s attention faster, which saves time during dangerous situations.

●  City-wide Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi in smart cities provides convenience to the public and helps the city run its infrastructure, attract potential clients to businesses, solve the inequality in income issues and enable the city to provide better services by becoming more efficient.

Data collection and analysis help smart cities improve urban mobility, reduce the cities’ carbon footprint, and manage the cities’ infrastructure in sustainable, secure, and economical manners.

When tourists arrive in cities away from their homes, they switch off their cellular data subscription. The problem is that this is when they need it more for navigating the city with ease. Data helps the tourists obtain data that is important for access to information such as local amenities and maps. Citywide Wi-Fi is an excellent resource for helping tourists and local citizens to make their way around the city, and for accessing things like local bus timetables.

Business-wise, revenue-generating apps will change how businesses engage and interact with their customers. Digital signage informs customers of promotions and offers while beacons send notifications to the clients’ smartphones as soon as they enter or approach a store.

Some Concerns Regarding Smart City (cities) Are:

●  Privacy concerns

Smart cities will evolve to more digital cities and with surveillance cameras everywhere, making facial recognition a way of life. Who owns all this collected data, and how ethical is the data collection in the first place? Some of the privacy concerns include:

● Tracking

All the collected data make it easy for individuals’ lives to be tracked via surveillance cameras with facial recognition. This means that wherever you go, your activities are recorded in real-time. The smarter and more connected a city is, the greater the privacy risk. Most citizens have cause for concern about the collected data risking compromisation in case of a breach.

We live in the information age where data is valuable. In a smart city, the data generated by the residents over many years could be more beneficial than land. If data is not properly secured, and there is no guarantee on privacy, smart cities could easily evolve from being user-centered to risk-filled communities.

●  Surveillance state

The extreme use of surveillance may lead to a surveillance state. A surveillance state is where governments deem surveillance to be a solution to its social issues. A surveillance state collects data on all citizens with little regard to their rights and denies it is carrying out surveillance. 

Many countries in the world are becoming surveillance states by the use of mass surveillance techniques. The problem with a surveillance state is not what it knows, but what it can do with the information it has in its custody. The danger of a surveillance state also lies in that it violates your privacy, but that the surveillance feeds state’s need for control, and the more the state knows, the more information it wants from the citizens.

Some countries have made it mandatory for Internet and mobile service providers to turn over any information the government asks for, which is a gross violation of the citizens’ human rights.

How to protect your privacy In A Smart City?

You can guard your privacy by:

  1. Installing a VPN

Since you cannot stop the surveillance, you can protect your data privacy by using a VPN (Virtual Private Network). One of the functions of a VPN is to hide both your location and your IP address. Staying anonymous is crucial when using public Wi-Fi because cybercriminals can use your IP address to track your location, and your online activities. Ensure you keep your data safe from the prying eyes!

2. Using an Encrypted Chat App

To communicate securely, use an instant messaging app rather than email, social media networks or SMS. SMS texts are insecure and open to government interception, explaining why government agencies spend so much time, effort and money monitoring communications via mobile.

Opt for an encrypted app like iMessage or Telegram, which helps you to secure your chats and photos from being snagged by government surveillance systems. 

3. Physical Security

In smart cities, the data collected includes your location via your smartphone’s built-in GPS. The system can tell where you are, where you are going, or where you have been. Disabling your cell phone’s GPS is one way, but this also means you cannot use your phone’s weather and map apps.

Your phone continuously connects to cell towers to enable you to make and receive phone calls. This information can be used to triangulate your location, and the only way to avoid this is to switch off your cell phone and put it inside a bag that blocks all radio signals. 

However, this means you cannot use your phone to make or receive calls and the minute you take the phone out of the bag, your location can be triangulated. The only way out of this is to stop using cell phones, which becomes an almost impossible feat.

Conclusion

Smart city (cities) should be designed with the citizens’ rights as a primary concern. Endpoint security should also be a critical consideration, primarily since the intelligent cities rely on IoT devices such as sensors, lights, and cameras. One breached device could lead to the entire smart city system being compromised and data exposed.

The smart city is an excellent idea that has already taken root around the world. It is worth noting that the line between shifting from a simple, smart city to a surveillance state is blurry. The proper guidelines and protections must be put in place to provide security for citizens.

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