Designing Digital Safety into the Smart City

All cities face digital opportunities and threats. From the wealthiest to the poorest, urban infrastructure, networks, and citizens are vulnerable to foreign and domestic cyber infiltration. Cities are increasingly at risk (Muggah & Goodman, 2019) as digital services expand and more and more devices are connected to the cloud. City residents are also vulnerable to smart city technologies that can be and are being used to conduct mass surveillance and curb their rights both online and off. If lacking adequate oversight and accountability, the hardware and software of digital cities can unfairly discriminate against minorities.

This article explores two basic questions: (1) What are the cyberthreats facing cities and their residents; and (2) How can cities and city networks work to improve their digital safety? These may be among the most significant – if under-appreciated – questions facing cities in the 21st century. Part of the reason is that most of the world’s population is living in cities. The explosive expansion of smart technologies in mature and emerging cities will redefine virtually every aspect of political, economic, and social life. Yet most city leaders and urban residents are only dimly aware of how big the risks are, much less how to deal with them.

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