Future Signal 2: Data Privacy

For my second “future signal” post, I was assigned to the week were were talking about Data Privacy. You can see my post on Medium here.

“Public libraries are the first defender of digital privacy; we have expertise in data policies and information management, and we have long played that role in city building.” — Pam Ryan, Director of Service Development and Innovation, Toronto Public Library

Bookshelf in the Toronto Library Reference Section. Photo from  Creative Commons .

Bookshelf in the Toronto Library Reference Section. Photo from Creative Commons.

There are at least 90 US cities that maintain open data portals. In most, these are run out of a branch of the Mayor’s Office. But recently, there have been proposals and efforts to make the institution we already trust with information management, education and equitable access the new owner of these data: the library.

This is already happening in Tennessee where the Chattanooga Public Libraryhas been managing the city’s open data system for the past five years, an institution that believes libraries can be “pioneer[s] of the new frontier of information exchange.” In cities around the country, libraries have made digital and tech access and education a core part of their programming, and it is becoming more common for open data strategies to be included in these initiatives. A new report by the Toronto Region Board of Trade highlights the tension between technological innovation and personal privacy in Sidewalk Labs’ smart “Quayside” development in a district of Toronto. In order to address these concerns, the Board proposes to give the Public Library full responsibility and authority in developing a “Civic Data Hub.”

Libraries themselves are still figuring out exactly what their role should look like in this context. Groups like the Urban Libraries Council (ULC) and Digital Public Library of America are some examples of efforts to drive data in libraries forward. One of the ULC’s core principles along with Education and Health, Sustainable Communities is Digital Inclusion. Their website states that, “for millions of people, libraries are their gateway to the digital universe and digital readiness.” This new direction in open data management indicates that cities are recognizing exactly that — as well as the fact that simply putting data online in a “user friendly” format is not enough to ensure equal access and privacy protection.


Poon, L. (2019, Feb 11). Should Libraries Be the Keepers of Their Cities’ Public Data? Retrieved February 23, 2019, from www.citylab.com.

Shueh, J (2015, June 5). Data Reinvents Libraries for the 21st Century.Retrieved February 28, 2019, from www.govtech.com.

Toronto Region Board of Trade (2019). BiblioTech. Beyond Quayside: A City-Building Proposal for the Toronto Public Library to Establish a Civic Data Hub.Toronto, Ontario.

Future Signal 1: Digital Master Planninng

During the semester, each student is asked to write two Medium posts about a “future signal” - a new article, podcast, etc. on an emerging trend or development in civic tech - on that week’s topic. Below is my first signal on digital master planning. You can also view it on Medium here.

“We strongly believe that human rights principles such as privacy, freedom of expression, and democracy must be incorporated by design into digital platforms starting with locally-controlled digital infrastructures and services”

— Declaration of Cities Coalition for Digital Rights

At the end of 2018, three leading global cities — Amsterdam, Barcelona and New York — announced an exciting new initiative for gov tech policy: the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights. Their directive is to create policies, tools and resources to advance digital human rights around the world. The Coalition has five core principles:

1. Universal and equal access to the Internet, and digital literacy

2. Privacy, data protection and security

3. Transparency, accountability, and non-discrimination of data, content and algorithm

4. Participatory democracy, diversity and inclusion

5. Open and ethical digital service standards

This coalition, and their principles, were designed with a global reach in mind and specifically in accordance with the UN Charter for Human Rights and Principles for the Internet. On their website, citizens can sign a petition asking their city to join the Coalition. Together, the cities plan to promote and track their progress and will work with the UN Human Settlements Programme to carry out their work during the coming year.

This initiative is groundbreaking because it is the first time city governments have created a joint initiative on this important topic. Many cities around the world have developed comprehensive plans for e-governance, open data and “smart” infrastructure — all elements of what is referred to under the umbrella term “digital master planning” — but this is the first time that cities are working together to develop citizen-centric and protective guidelines for implementing those plans.

This approach is incredibly important to the future of cities as more services are delivered online and built infrastructure integrates with the Internet. In their technology planning, it is essential that city governments ensure that citizens are included, protected, and treated equitably in these digital and internet-enabled spaces.


DS14EU. “The Cities Coalition for Digital Rights: a global initiative to put citizens’ digital rights at the centre of the policy debate.” Medium. 13 December 2018. https://medium.com/dsi4eu/the-cities-coalition-for-digital-rights-a-global-initiative-to-put-citizens-digital-rights-at-601963879c90. Accessed 13 February 2019.

New York City Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer. (2018). New York City, Amsterdam and Barcelona Launch Global Coalition To Protect Digital Rights [Press release]. Retrieved from https://citiesfordigitalrights.org/assets/NYC-AMS-BCN-LaunchGlobalCoalitionToProtectDigitalRights.pdf

NYC Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer. Cities Coalition for Digital Rights Website. https://tech.cityofnewyork.us/projects/cities-coalition-for-digital-rights/. Accessed 13 February 2019.