Smart Cities will help in conserving the environment but this should not lead to violation of integrity of an individual. Government should certainly make Smart Cities and at the same time it should enact legislations to safeguard both integrity of the individuals and misuse of data by their own government as well as foreign powers.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has resolved to establish 100 new Smart Cities. This is wholly welcome. The population of the country is increasing. The requirement of electricity, fuel, water and oxygen is growing rapidly while availability of these resources is limited. It is necessary to reduce the demand of these natural resources while improving the living standards of our people. This exercise is best initiated in the cities where increasing numbers of our people will live in the coming times.
There is huge waste of resources in the city today. One can see some buses running overcrowded while others hardly occupied. It is possible to install cameras on the bus stands so that the control room knows of the demand of a particular number of bus at a particular place. Number of buses can be adjusted accordingly. Coordina-tion of various modes of public transport can be done. The sale of local train and metro tickets to a particular destination can be communicated in time to the bus control room and number of buses can be reduced or increased accordingly. Coordination can be done between schools as well. In case of absence of a teacher, another teacher located in another school can take the class by videoconferencing. Car pools can be made much more effective. A computer can make a real time match between the persons wanting to go to a particular destination and car owners going in that same direction. That would reduce the fuel consumption.
Intensity of street lights can be adjusted according to the full- or no moon days. We see street lights blazing throughout the night when there is no one walking on the pavement. It may be possible to install cameras so that street lights switch on when pedestrians are walking and are switched off when there are none. Water supply can be monitored. Supply to a household can be priced differently or even cut off if readings indicate excessive use of water for car washing or watering the lawns. Information Technology (IT) can be used within the home as well. Houses can be made to make better use of natural light and the electrical lights can be adjusted according to the sunlight available.
Recently I visited a relative in Khagaria district in Bihar. She had installed glasses in the roof. The whole room was lighted as if a light is on. Such modification can be done in every house. Water harvesting, solar heating and solar power can be installed on the roofs. In these various ways the demand for natural resources can be reduced while comfort increased and time saved.
Smart cities would require installation of sensors and cameras across the public spaces. Your photo will be captured in these cameras. Your movements can be monitored. Say you are reading a newspaper in the park after a morning stroll. You certainly would not like a camera to be watching on you. The record of bus or metro tickets bought, petrol filled in the car, ATMs used, mobile phone location and shopping done could all can be put together and your complete travel programme would be known to the controllers. Much of this information can be gathered without tapping the phones. The record of location, time, duration and destination of the calls can provide much information about your behaviour and social connections. The electricity meters installed in the houses can act as a spy. The pattern of electricity consumption can be used to determine when you are in and out of the home, when you take a bath and when you turn on the microwave. These informations are in addition to the information already collected in opening bank accounts, filing Income Tax returns, making driving licences and the like. There will be little space left where one can be with oneself.
A study by Centre for Communication Technology, Spain and France Telecom, France has outlined four dimensions of privacy. First is personal information such as your bank account, driving licence, address, income and job status. Second is privacy of person. This is the right to control the integrity of one’s own body. It covers such things as physical requirements, health problems, and required medical devices. Third is privacy of personal behaviour. It is the right of the individual to keep any knowledge of their activities such as visiting a gym or a cinema house from being shared with others. Last is privacy of personal communications. It is the right of the individual to communicate without undue surveillance, monitoring, or censorship.
There is a need to guard these informations so that the sovereignty and integrity of a person is not violated. There is a huge potential for these information to be misused. Hitler, for example, used the census records to hunt out Jews and send them to the gallows. Imagine the problems that would have been faced by the freedom fighters if the British Government of India had converted all our cities into the smart cities. It would have become virtually impossible to carry out any anti-British political activity. US President Obama had officially supported the policy of the US Government to undertake surveillance of foreign nationals. Bugging of houses of leaders of foreign countries was part of this operation. The vast scope of this surveillance programme was exposed by Edward Snowden of Wiki leaks who is being hunted by the US and UK governments and living in the shelter of Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Imagine the level of information about Indian nationals that the US Government could access through the smart city networks. The BJP had earlier opposed the Aadhar programme on these very considerations.
The Free Liberal Open Knowledge Society based in Ecuador has made suggestions to prevent such misuse of Smart City information. One, the information sent or received on internet by private individuals should be encrypted. Two, the access to “back door” information such as ATM use or purchases should be banned. Three, restriction should be imposed that the data that is gathered would be used only after explicit authorisation of the individual concerned. Four, government should inform the public about the scope, nature and application surveillance being undertaken and of laws permitting the same. Five, telephone companies must be required to publish details of numbers of surveillance undertaken by the Government. Six, an independent oversight mechanism must be established to ensure data secrecy and accountability of surveillance.
We need to attain a balance between environment and privacy. Smart Cities will help conserve the environment by reducing wastage. But this should not lead to violation of privacy and integrity of the individual. That would be like falling from the frying pan into the fire. Modi should certainly make Smart Cities. At the same time he should enact legislations to safeguard both privacy of the individuals and misuse of data by own government as well as foreign powers.
-Dr Bharat Jhunjhunwala (The writer is a former Professor of Economics at IIM Bengaluru)