Shedding Light
on Smart City Privacy

Cities and communities generate data through a vast and growing network of connected technologies that power new and innovative services ranging from apps that can help drivers find parking spots to sensors that can improve water quality. Such services improve individual lives and make cities more efficient. While smart city technologies can raise privacy issues, sophisticated data privacy programs can mitigate these concerns while preserving the benefits of cities that are cleaner, faster, safer, more efficient, and more sustainable.

Connected Technologies Are Everywhere

It's not just your phone that's gotten smarter. Here's a smart city example: city streetlights are so ubiquitous they usually go unnoticed—but there's more to them than meets the eye. Today's lights can be fitted with multiple sensors and beacons, upgrading existing infrastructure into a hub for capabilities ranging from environmental to public safety to transportation. Click on the features below to learn more about smart city technologies, how they're used and what they mean for privacy.

Use the tabs above to explore this map's layers.

Smart Trash Cans

Trash cans alert for pick-up when full

Public Wifi Kiosks

Public Private Partnership provides free Wifi for all

911 Police Apps

Police apps improve emergency response

Bikeshare Service

Public bike shares managed by RFID tags

Urban Smart Cards

Urban smart cards provide universal access to city services

Mobile App for Buses

Riders plan ahead with transportation apps

Smart Water Meters

Water meters monitor usage and quality

Location Beacons

Beacons support navigation for the blind

Smart Cars

Smart Cars communicate with city and other cars


CCTV security cameras deter crime

Public Broadband

Public broadband connects services seamlessly and efficiently

Smart Power Meters

Power meters proactively manage usage

Drone Cameras

Drone cameras monitor traffic

Parking Monitoring

Sensors direct cars to open parking spaces

Body Cams

Body cams improve police transparency and accountability

Smart Trucks

Trucks adjust routes in real-time based on need

Smart Buses

Buses adjusts route based on demand

Environmental Sensors

Sensors measure air quality, noise, and other conditions

Smart Rail

Rail network transmits data on usage and breakdowns

First Response
Public Safety Coordination

Real-time data enables first response

Smart Grid

Power grid self-regulates flow based on demand

Smart Landfill

Landfills monitor emission levels


Automated tolling tracks traffic patterns and congestion

Smart Water Network

Water networks minimize and remediate leakage

Water Analytics

Water analytics improve water quality

Cloud Servers

Cloud servers hold and process data

Traffic Controls

Traffic controls react automatically to pedestrians

Light Sensors

Sensors optimize lights based on real-time conditions

Automated License Plate Readers

Cameras capture images of passing license plates

Pedestrian Traffic Sensors

Sensors measure traffic to optimize urban planning

Gunshot Detectors

Sensors listen for gunshots and alert police.

Click the labels above to learn more

Data Privacy


  • Surveillance

    Critics are concerned that ubiquitous data collection by corporate and government entities creates detailed records of people’s lives and strengthens power imbalances

  • Data Spills

    Personal information is leaked or exposed when an information system or database is compromised

  • Unexpected Uses

    Data collected from an individual for one purpose is used for another unexpected purpose without additional notice or consent

  • Open Data vs. Privacy

    Public records laws, freedom of information requests, and open data portals risk revealing personally identifiable information to the public

  • Discrimination

    Critics are concerned that by relying on civic data, algorithms may reinforce existing societal bias, disguise prejudiced decision-making, and block opportunity for diverse populations

  • Data Quality

    Biased, inaccurate, or incomplete data may lead to poor or inefficient decision-making, unethical or illegal uses of data, and discriminatory outcomes

Data Privacy


  • Privacy Program Management

    Establish institutions, practices and procedures to ensure that accountability is maintained and resources provided to oversee, govern, and audit organizational use of individuals’ data

  • Transparency & Consent

    Engage communities and inform individuals about how and why their personal data will be collected and used, and offer choices to participate where possible

  • Local Storage

    Process data on a device and report only analytics or aggregated results to the cloud, rather than transmitting raw personal data

  • Data Minimization

    Limit the collection of personal information to that which is directly relevant and necessary to accomplish a specified purpose

  • Vendor Management

    Diligently select and supervise vendors, regularly monitor and audit their security and privacy practices, and put in place contractual protections for personal information

  • De-Identification

    Render personal information that is collected, used, archived, and shared with other organizations unidentifiable

More Smart Cities Resources