On Wednesday 18th and Thursday 19th November, coincidently with Smart City Life and the Coalition General Assembly for 2020, Coalition members Malcolm Bain (BCN), Aik Eemeren (AMS) and Johanna Pasilkar (Helsinki) as well as one of its founders, Francesca Bria, President of the Italian Innovation Fund and former CTO of Barcelona, participated in two virtual workshops in Germany on digital rights in cities.
Hamburg workshop: "The New Hanse: Building an ecological digital city from the ground up”
The Hamburg workshop, entitled “The New Hanse: Building an ecological digital city from the ground up” and organized by The New Institute, focused on both digital rights and environmental issues, and indeed highlighted the close relationship between the two. As regards digital rights, Francesca Bria presented an excellent high level overview of the challenges faced today in terms of digital policies and services and their link to environmental challenges, presenting her work at Barcelona and now at Italian Innovation Fund, with an introduction to some of Barcelona’s flagship projects within the Open Digitisation Plan (Decidim, DECODE, BCN Opendata), and the need for better and deeper policies and actions for technological sovereignty and respect for citizen (city residents and visitors) rights in the municipal digital transformation process.
Oleguer Sagarra (Dribia), who advised Barcelona on data management and the formation of its Data Commons among other matters, presented the advantages of strong data strategies and the intricacies of concrete cases for privacy respectful projects such as DECODE, while Malcolm Bain dived down into some details of the implementation of the Barcelona Digitisation Plan, presenting not only the City’s Ethical Digital Toolkit and new projects in the area of digital inclusion and empowerment, but also highlighted the value of the City Coalition for Digital Rights and invited Hamburg to join the Coalition. Malcolm presented the different actions of the Coalition in the areas of new technologies (AI), data sharing and Covid-19 related principles.
The workshop participants, which included both city and state officials – lead by Hamburg’s CTO Mr. C. Pfromm - and academia, reflecting the strong German link between public administration, universities, industry, and civil society. Participants were very interested in the concrete projects and achievements of Coalition members built around putting citizens first and achieving greater democratization of data and digital technology in both large and small, agile projects; and strong emphasis was put on working up from concrete use-cases and challenges, and building digital rights capacities (human and technical) bottom upwards
German Workshop: “Data Sovereignty”
On Thursday, in a workshop focused on “Data Sovereignty”, in the morning Francesca Brian and Malcolm Bain also presented the work of the Coalition to a wider audience in the Smart City Dialogue Platform, under the umbrella of the Federal Ministry of Interior, Building and Community and in collaboration with Eurocities, and attended by participants from several German and other European cities (Rennes, Bologna, Helsinki, Barcelona, Istanbul), officials of the Ministry and the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development, and representatives of the European Commission.
A joint keynote on data sovereignty from Francesca Bria (in terms of policy and current challenges), and Malcolm Bain (on the implementation of Data Sovereignty through real concrete projects) presented current thought and work in this space, and highlighted some of the Coalition members’ work from the data sharing group, with references to Racial Justice project in Portland, Long Beach’s Justice Lab, Periscopio project in Zaragoza, procurement contract clauses in Barcelona and Amsterdam’s work collaborating with Google.
After the talks, practical workshops worked on challenges and potential solutions for data sovereignty in participants’ cities from legal, technical and policy points of view. In my group, a very interesting (and unfinished) debate sprung up about “data as a public good”, and how cities need to obtain key digital information resources both internally (breaking down internal silos) and from the private sector – particularly large platforms like Airbnb, Google, Facebook, and other operators. Questions were asked if certain datasets can be classified as “essential” or “a public good” and would it be useful to have a regulatory framework enabling cities to access data from the private sector, provided sufficient safeguards were provided, even without contractual relationship or municipal licensing.
In the afternoon, deep dive case-studies by Johanna Pasilkar and Wilhelmiina Griep (Helsinki and Espoo) and Aik Eemeren (Amsterdam) respectively presented the Finnish myData project for developing and deploying a platform for managing fair consent for sharing personal data, and the DECODE project, which provides tools that put individuals in control of whether they keep their personal data private or share it for the public good and enabling granular citizen consent or anonymity in their relations with digital platforms and services [presentations].
Looking at these two events, what is very welcome to see and hear is the alignment of more and more cities and other public entities with the principles declared by the Coalition, not just in terms of privacy and security (a fairly tried and tested issue in the EU) but also in the areas of putting citizens first, democratic control of data and technology, service design and AI governance, technological transparency and accountability, open, interoperable and privacy-enhancing technologies - and the complementarity of these rights with other essential challenges that cities are faced with such as mobility, exclusion, pollution and achieving “Net Zero emissions”.