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NGI Policy Summit 2020

The NGI Policy Summit is the flagship policy conference of the European Commission’s Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative, organised by the City of Amsterdam and Nesta. This year, on 28-29 September, the Summit laid out an ambitious European vision for the future internet and explore the policy interventions and technical solutions that can help get us there. Four of the interesting sessions of this event were hosted by CC4DR and three of them are summarized below. 


Biometrics and facial recognition in cities

This session was a discussion about the positive and negative aspects of the use of biometrics and facial recognition.

On the one hand, many people support that we should ban biometrical technology, as it is a threat to privacy and human dignity. More specifically, there is the issue of transparency and openness in the way this technology can be used given that it is difficult for citizens to trust the government about their data. In the case of facial recognition, it is used very often against minorities fostering racial discrimination such as with coloured Muslims. Moreover, the use of technology is wide, and people feel that they are controlled even in public, so this changes their social behaviour. Everything looks suspicious, even when you stare at your phone or remove your glasses in the middle of the street. Therefore, this technology can lead to the deprivation of citizen’s liberty and it is considered as a threat to democracy since many rights are affected such as non-discrimination and expression. And the question here is to what extent this is ethical?

On the other hand, it was mentioned that biometrical technology can have some beneficial operations. Concretely, biometrics can prevent and detect crimes as there are cameras everywhere and facial recognition software for criminal investigation. For instance, you can compare images of criminals in the database. Another point is that there is already data collection by apps and people themselves become exposed as they post photos, videos and share their data in these apps so why not use biometric in general. Some people also accept facial recognition in order to have access to social services through phone for example.

Technological development is inevitable so instead of banning it, we should use it under strict conditions. It is an issue of checks and balances and whether the policy formation can keep up. There is a need for consent on behalf of citizens and certification in the authentication procedures. Governments need to ensure the safety of citizens and protect their freedoms. Not only do police use biometrical technology, but citizens too and thus the police have the obligation to prevent people from potential misuse.


Data-Sharing in Cities

Panel for the city and regional stakeholders that explores the application of digital rights in local data-sharing platforms throughout planning, implementation, and evolution 

Zaragoza, Spain

Zaragoza highlighted that data have big public value for cities but not for the citizens. In the case of citizens, there is the issue of privacy. A more participatory smart city is needed but how we can do it, what about citizens? we need to fill the gap and understand the data. The real sense of control in the CC4DR context is to give citizens effective control of their digital self, much in the same way we should be able to exert control over our physical selves

San Antonio, US

Bias data input because of biased policies, programs, and services such as gender bias. Addressing bias in policy means targeting bias in data. The steps for this are firstly city surveys and then communication conversation series. 3 important things are identity, reach, and trust. Identity refers to the collection of data and the way they are used. Reach refers to the way surveys are administered and if they were obstacles to participate. Trust is about the use of data in the decision-making and it has to be communicated to citizens how the data will be used

Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki talked about the project MyData Operator (together with Espoo, Turku, Oulu). The question here is to ensure that the resident’s consent is genuine. Citizens give their consent, but it is indeed voluntary? Do all adhere to common ethics? All definitions should be understandable from citizens. MyData solutions facilitate the life of citizens by consolidating the collected data from the city’s departments and organizations. MyData principles for unified ways of working that enable digital services and availability of the services across city and state borders also for companies and NGOs and the analysis of data enables service improvement

Amsterdam, Netherlands 

The city of Amsterdam shares information from operating systems in real-time with navigation companies such as info about road closures, tunnels, bridges. Companies process these data in navigation systems. The city sends data through traffic database, data exchange and it is pilot municipality upscaling through others. The result is that the traffic flow is better now in the city and there is less air pollution and less inconvenience on the roads 

Toronto, Canada 

Toronto talked about the significance of the Digital infrastructure and Policy innovation and how to integrate the DIP principles into municipal decision-making. The principles are the following: 1.Equity, inclusion  2. Privacy, security 3. Democracy, transparency  4. Well-run city 5. Social, economic, environmental benefits 

Rennes, France 

Rennes explained the RUDI project (Rennes Urban Data Interface), a genuinely collaborative and partnership-based strategy on data, supported by UIA (Urban Innovative Actions). Specifically, it is a 3-year data-sharing platform with 11 partners mostly from energy, transport, and 2 entry points, citizens, and project managers. The goals of this project are: 1.Go beyond open data and push the limits on what can be shared, 2.Connect users and producers, to create better services,  3. Connect producers to increase data quality, facilitate access, organize data-sharing on a local level and rethink collectively ways of sharing data , 4. Push citizens to take part in the way their data are used, allow them to act on their own data and know-how the platform operates 

Portland, Oregon 

Portland deals now with the issue of racial discrimination which is favored by technology. For this reason, there are efforts to establish racial justice as a core value to regulate emergent technology. Technology can be a useful tool such as in the case of facial recognition and the regional barometer. The Regional Barometer provides information about racial equity, communities, climate, the natural environment, the economy, and transportation. Users can view easy-to-understand facts and figures with some key context and download data for additional analysis. To guarantee racial justice trusted surveillance and digital inclusion are needed. Now the city works on the concept of digital justice and anti-racism. Some people have access but others are not considered as citizens and this has to change. We need to start re-imagining surveillance. 

Long Beach, California 

Long Beach explained the Smart city initiative based on the collection of data which is participatory by design. There are both positive and negative associations. The positive is efficiency, solutions to social challenges, personal convenience, and more engaged citizens. On the other hand, the negative is distrust of foreign and local governments and the platforms, fewer jobs, violations of privacy because of hackers and use of data from the government, lack of transparency, and digital exclusion 

Barcelona, Spain 

Barcelona talked about the use of datasets to find solutions to specific challenges and the ownership of data. More specifically, it explained the project DECODE which provides tools that put individuals in control of their own data. They can decide whether they keep their personal data private or share it for the public good.  


Public Control on AI

This session was about AI benefits and the control that should be exerted over it to ensure that it is used in a transparent and accountable way.  

The questions around this topic are how cities, in general, think to use this system and how they can overcome the emerging challenges; how we can solve the problems in cities and deliver public services; how normative issues emerge in AI system; whether we deploy the AI system or not if regulation can play a role in making deliberation the new normal avoiding technical solutionism 

There are many companies that use AI and can improve it to guarantee transparency but for citizens, it is not so common, and they cannot do a lot about it. Even institutions cannot really understand the AI system. In order to ensure accountability, impact assessments are needed and should be done from the beginning because you can decide what activities you want to include such as monitoring. Another suggestion in this discussion was to do impact assessments, but also ask the people who are impacted by the AI systems what they want.  

There was also the statement that we haven't been able to solve the "responsible use of power" regardless of whether it's exercised through the monopoly of violence, allocating resources (health care, using data or AI, etc.)  It's often tempting to believe that we can fix these societal issues with a "regulation on AI". 

Finally, an interesting point was that decision-makers believe that using AI decision-making systems will make the process easier but usually automation allows only to do things faster. But for high-impact decisions, like decisions about medical treatment or incarceration, using AI makes decision-making harder, because more factors are considered. At the same time, this may also improve decision-making. In each case, the relationship between citizens and administration is very important and can have effective results in policy-making. 


Written by Nefeli Iliopoulou

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