Modern urban life is digitally dependent.  So much of what citizens/residents do in their daily transactions, social, commercial and administrative relies on data sharing at a mass scale.  While this is what makes cities 'smart' individuals and their communities have little information and even less say in how this data sharing evolves.  Recently KAS (Singapore) released its report “Mass Data Sharing in Smart Cities: Regulation and governance of the public-private interface”.  This research is not only ground-breaking in the manner it reveals challenges to data integrity posed through mass data sharing, but also in how it exposes the public/private convergence of data access, storage and transmission.  The report looks at important fields of city service delivery, such as health, education and government information, analysing the contextual and universal challenges to conventional governance they pose.  

There is nothing new about mass data sharing in modern urban environments.  Nor is it novel to suggest that what makes smart cities ‘smart’ is the reliance on digitized technology.  The pressing reason for the research contained in this report comes out of pervasive surveillance regimes which featured in most COVID-19 pandemic control strategies.  Since COVID was downgraded as a global health concern these surveillance technologies have not accordingly been demobed.  Additionally, during the pandemic it became common that large public and private data stores and facilities were merged for the purposes of tracking and tracing human movement. This confluence of public and private data since that time has only developed further and now has become a feature of ‘super-apps’ where public services are consolidated and often managed and provided for by private sector info tech.  Several of the case-study examples in the report are where education and health coverage has built on pre-existing COVID surveillance frames.  In these areas citizen/resident participants have little real choice about contributing large amounts of important personal data idf they are to benefit from the services provided.  Often there are no effective firewalls to keep data within only one designated purpose and participants (and often providers) are not aware of thew nature and extent of reuse.  Finally, the governance challenges identified in the report are often misunderstood or passed over by stakeholders who had become accustomed to more intrusive surveillance and data collection during the pandemic.

The report focuses on smart cities in Asia which could be said to operate within less stringent personal data protection and data governance regimes than might be common in more rights-oriented regulatory requirements such as those experienced in Europe.  Even so, the appetite for mass data sharing, and the phenomenon of merging public and private data access and use is a common concern.  Arising out of the public/private data confluence are important questions about what form of governance we will apply to data management and whether pre-existing regulatory schemes designed for less complex data arrangements, are fit for purpose.

Digital self-determination encourages stakeholder participation in all stages and situations of data access and use.  It is citizen-centric in motivation, much like the policy commitments in many smart cities.  What makes DSD apposite for the governance challenges identified in this research is the way it works from power dispersal through information sharing and a common desire to ensure data integrity.

For those interested in DSD, the report proposes a new governance model that employs the core elements of DSD, and provides an important array of use case applications where DSD in action, will address governance challenges not previously covered by personal data protection or other conventional governance modes.  If you want to know how a DSD-based governance regime can restore citizen/resident centricity to vital data sharing ecosystems, then this report is required reading.