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EU, US smart cities target data access, abuse, bias with coalition on digital rights

Amsterdam, Barcelona and New York City have launched a  smart cities coalition for digital rights to protect citizens’ data and digital rights.

The new ‘cities coalition for digital rights‘ coalition said the same human rights people have offline must also be protected in the digital society. The trio put forward five principles at Smart Cities Expo World Congress in Barcelona to create policies and tools to promote and protect the digital rights of residents and visitors to their cities.

The group referenced cases of digital rights abuse, including unauthorised monitoring, sharing and selling of personal data about citizens’ movements and communications, and so-called ‘black box’ algorithms that make unaccountable decisions.

They also called out abuse of social media platforms as “tools of harassment and hate speech”, which undermine democratic processes and public opinion.

The coalition’s founding principles include: universal internet access; data privacy, protection and security; and transparency, accountability, and non-discrimination of data, content and algorithms.

The cities also said participatory democracy, diversity and inclusion, and open and ethical digital service standards are underpinning values for their collaboration and exchange.

The smart cities initiative falls in line with the United Nations’ ‘charter for human rights and principles for the internet’, part of its internet governance forum. It is the first time cities have come together to protect digital rights on a global level.

The smart cities group will engage with in policy discussions with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and other participating cities over the next year, they said.

“We are entering a world where digital technologies are becoming pervasive and imply greater risks for these rights in the real and virtual spaces where we live, and in our interactions with institutions and public administration,” the cities said in a joint statement.

The cities have committed to share practical examples of their work, learn from each other, and create and share action programmes, they saud.

Touria Meliani, deputy mayor of Amsterdam, said: “Through digital technologies we can connect to everything and everyone across the world. At the same time we are discriminated by algorithms and locked into digital bubbles. Amsterdam feels the responsibility to found this global cities movement, and demonstrate that cities lead the way in human centered innovation.”

Gerardo Pisarello, deputy mayor of Barcelona, said: “A human centric digital society shall reflect the openness, diversity and the inclusion that are at the core of our societies and values. We want an open internet that allows every citizen to take part in the online society. We want an internet that empowers citizens not discriminates them.”

Laura Anglin, deputy mayor for the city of New York, said: “We serve 8.5 million people with the unique and challenging needs of a diverse population that makes New York City one of the most resilient in the world. Protecting human rights in a digital world is essential to global unity and our ability to serve all people fairly and equally.”

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