Meet inspiring people
My name is Hector Dominguez and I have been joining the cities coalition for digital rights meetings since 2018 representing the City of Portland, OR. Portland is a mid-size city in the American pacific northwest, and we share many digital challenges as our peers in Europe.
Besides of all the differences, including the legal framework that the General Data Protection Regulation provides to European cities, digital rights are still a universal approach to how people and organizations should access to technology and information.
I could visit our digital rights peers in the Cities of Amsterdam and Barcelona this summer and learn more about their digital rights projects and initiatives. Both cities are leaders in implementing digital infrastructure and one of my goals was to learn how these cities develop digital infrastructure projects.
Even though the European Union provides frameworks for most of these projects, it is the people in those cities who negotiate with the private sector, secure budgets for implementation, and put together teams for implementing these projects.
I saw the benefits of digital infrastructure connecting people more effectively and transforming economic transactions. I learned that the digital divide is getting narrower, but deeper and more complex. Most of the people now have access to a smart phone and can connect to the internet, but do not fully understand the importance of privacy, cybersecurity, or impacts of artificial intelligence in their day-to-day activities or life decisions.
There, it is the space where local government programs can be very impactful, particularly when leading with digital rights. Amsterdam and Barcelona have done a great job engaging with multiple stakeholders and developing public processes for digital infrastructure.
I was very impressed by how Barcelona has building code regulations that requires new buildings above certain high to include features for installing communications antennas and their power supply. Once the building is completed, there is a process where companies bid for the space.
Both, Amsterdam and Barcelona, are also deploying broadband infrastructure that is partially funded by private entities and public grants. Once ready, it is shared and rules for its use are clear to everyone.
In Portland, we recognize not only that we need to do the right thing, but we need to do it right. For us, doing the thing right means effective public participation, engagement, transparent, and prioritizing communities that have been left behind.
In this way, Portland became the only city in the US to ban the use of privately owned face recognition in public places. This was possible due to a collaboration between the Portland community and the City leadership.
Portland is currently developing its inventory of surveillance technologies. Public participation and input are defining what information will be part of this inventory. We are still far from reaching our goals but feel proud of the achievements and the level of commitment that our community shows. You can find more about our recent work in Portland in this website: https://www.smartcitypdx.com/news?category=surveillance
Putting people at the center of civic digital projects is the core strategy for implementing digital rights. Several cities have already started the journey, but it is really their people who have tried, and tried again. This is a constant learning journey that can be done in a group.
All this work stands in the shoulders of city employees, who lead and put their expertise into public practice. For me, the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights is a network of people that are committed to do the right thing by doing it right.
Figure 1. The Author with Marc Pérez-Batlle. City of Barcelona. August 2023.
Figure 2. The author with Milou Jansen. Lead on Digital Rights and Ethics. City of Amsterdam. August 2023.
Hector Dominguez is the open data and privacy coordinator in the City of Portland, OR. His projects are part of the Smart City PDX program in the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. You can reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org