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CC4DR Convenes Applied Digital Rights Initiative

Pairing academic institutions with city governments, the Applied Digital Rights Initiative connects expert researchers to real-world problems facing city governments in how they operationalize digital rights across policy and programs  

This Press Release was originally published here, on the 21st of April, 2021, via the New York City Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer.

NEW YORK – The City of New York, as a founding member of the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights, through the Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer, successfully convened the Cities Coalition’s Applied Digital Rights Initiative (ADRI) with nine international municipalities and twenty seven university & research institution partners. The participating cities represent over twenty two million residents across six countries in North America and Europe. Pairing academic institutions with city governments, the ADRI connected expert researchers to specific, concrete, real-world problems facing city governments in how they operationalize digital rights across policy and programs. 

Though digital rights and the intersection of technology and society have become topics of widespread interest, a major challenge facing those who wish to implement any such principles in real systems and programs is that the relevant questions are often still at the research stage and not yet fully understood. The ADRI has aimed to help advance this conversation by being grounded in specific projects and the real-world context of local governments. It has connected city staff with a diverse and interdisciplinary collection of research experts and helped researchers gain insight into the wide range of questions and challenges facing an international group of cities and the practical considerations involved.

“Creating opportunities to connect experts who research emerging technologies with government officials who might be putting these technologies into practice has the potential to create enormous benefits for citizens,” said Laura Anglin, Deputy Mayor for Operations. “We are proud to be a part of the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights community to host this practical and impactful initiative.”   

“As new technologies emerge and people’s lives become ever more digital, it is essential that government officials fully understand both the potential benefits and the possible unintended consequences,” said John Paul Farmer, Chief Technology Officer of the City of New York. “The Applied Digital Rights Initiative provides a model for how municipal governments can explore safe, beneficial, and pro-social ways to employ new technologies while leveraging guidance from experts in academia. We applaud everyone who contributed to the successful creation of the Applied Digital Rights Initiative and look forward to exploring additional opportunities for collaboration between the public and academic sectors.”      

Milou Jansen, Coordinator for the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights and Digital Rights Advisor to the City of Amsterdam, said “The Applied Digital Rights Initiative is important for the Coalition because it showcases the tremendous potential of city leadership on this topic. The initiative shows that when cities and academia come together, they can effectively turn insights into tangible action that strengthen the application of digital rights in a local context. These kinds of collaborations could grow into a much-needed platform for like-minded experts and civil servants that further define the field of urban digital rights.”

Participating cities, projects, and associated academic institutions include:


Universities & Institutions 

Project topics

Neal Parikh, Director of AI for NYC in the Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer and co-organizer of the Applied Digital Rights Initiative, said, “Projects involving digital rights questions are different from traditional technology projects and from work in other areas where cities and academics have previously collaborated. In this emerging area, the questions are not yet fully understood and clear answers are not always available. Experimental, interdisciplinary collaborations grounded in the details of concrete projects and real constraints are an important tool to help produce more impactful and applicable work, both within academia and in city governments, to meaningfully serve the public interest.”

Jen Noborikawa, Acting Director of Moonshots and Senior Advisor for Innovation in the Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer and co-organizer of the Applied Digital Rights Initiative, said, “In this age of transformative emerging technology, we need collaborations like this that bring together diverse perspectives from academia and city governments to explore the novel, nuanced questions and practical ways to make digital rights a reality in the lives of local residents.”

Emily Royall, Smart City Coordinator for the City of San Antonio and co-organizer of the Applied Digital Rights Initiative, said“Cities around the world are at the frontlines of digital rights. Having the opportunity to work with universities and research organizations to define and build applicable tools in this space has been a rewarding experience for the City of San Antonio that we will carry forward in our work.”

Ted Lehr, a Data Architect for the City of Austin and co-organizer of the Applied Digital Rights Initiative, said, “The Digital Rights Challenge brought together world class university researchers with the real world challenges faced by cities and their governments.  For the City of Austin, the workshop provided unprecedented assistance, typically unavailable to cities, in building our capacity to address the challenges we face in understanding the intersection of emerging technologies like AI and critical social issues.”

Bianca Wylie, Senior Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and Co-founder of Tech Reset Canada, said, “It was great to be part of a workshop focused on the intersection of municipal operations and digital rights. It’s a space in dire need of more attention. The Applied Digital Rights Initiative offers important capacity building power to city staff and residents alike by highlighting and targeting some of the most pressing digital rights issues facing cities today.”

Chris Riley, former Director of Public Policy for Mozilla and currently Senior Fellow for Internet Governance at the R Street Institute, said, “The Applied Digital Rights Initiative is a compelling governance experiment to bring together digital rights researchers with local government experts around meaningful problems. I’m excited for both the short-term benefits that it stands to provide for the citizens of each of the participating cities, and the long-term lessons we will learn as we continue to tackle challenging issues at the intersection of technology and society.”

Sharon Sputz, Executive Director of Strategic Programs at Columbia University’s Data Science Institute, said, “The Cities Coalition for Digital Rights convened a valuable and unique workshop that showed how cities across the globe are recognizing their increased role in ensuring the digital rights of their citizens. My greatest take away was our ability to share best practices around academia and cities’ experiences in engaging the community in an environment of challenging access to technology.”

Mihir Kshirsagar, Lead of the Technology Policy Clinic at Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy, said: “The Applied Digital Rights Initiative workshop gave academic researchers a fascinating opportunity to learn from forward-looking cities that are trying to address the novel challenges of protecting their constituents’ digital rights while delivering vital services. I look forward to partnering with the cities to address these challenges.”

Brandie Nonnecke, Director of the CITRIS Policy Lab at CITRIS (Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society) and the Banatao Institute, University of California at Berkeley, and Fellow at the Harvard Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, said, “The Applied Digital Rights Initiative Workshops bring together diverse stakeholders to help shape appropriate technology development and deployment in the public sector. Drawing upon the deep expertise of researchers and practitioners and its digital rights framework, members of the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights are taking meaningful steps toward maximizing benefits and mitigating harms of technology for their constituents.”

Craig Watkins, Ernest A. Sharpe Centennial Professor, School of Journalism and Media and Moody College of Communication, University of Texas at Austin, said, “The time is now for the Applied Digital Rights Initiative.  As we see more and more city governments around the world adopt artificial intelligence and other data-driven systems questions about transparency, accountability, and fairness become more salient.  The research, case studies, ideas, and vision supported by ADRI will offer the critical insights we need to build a more ethical and equitable digital future.  What’s one likely impact of this initiative?  Imagine a future in which citizens will have more information about the tech systems their local governments are using, the ability to offer public comment to ensure a more inclusive approach to tech-driven governing, and the efficacy to advance digital rights for all.”


The Cities Coalition for Digital Rights, launched by the cities of Amsterdam, Barcelona and New York in November 2018 and now with a membership of over 50 cities worldwide, is a network of cities helping each other in the greenfield of digital rights-based policy-making. The Coalition is committed to promoting and defending digital rights in the urban context through city action, to resolve common digital challenges and work towards legal, ethical, and operational frameworks to advance human rights in digital environments. Learn more at: 

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