Smart cities and places are not new concepts. Data and technology have long been used to improve the quality of public services, and to provide innovative solutions to meet local challenges.

Transport, air quality, the environment and healthcare are all examples of how digital connectivity have already transformed the way people live, work and travel.

With advancing technology, there is now an increasing business case to scale-up investments in digital infrastructure to enhance local economies and sustainability.

But organisations need to be aware of the legal challenges involved.


Smart Places – how do they work?
At the heart of a Smart Place, there needs to be communications network that can connect and coordinate a range of local services more efficiently. Data from sensors and other devices are used to gather information that is processed and analysed to help influence behaviours and local decision-making.

In Cambridge, this is providing better travel and transport information for journeys, easier payment options including integrated ticketing and online payments, monitoring of air quality, and intelligence to support future transport initiatives including driverless vehicles.

In Bristol, three new fast networks will provide (via smartphones and GPS services) a range of communications focused on reducing energy costs, better air quality and improved traffic flows.

The Manchester Smarter City programme uses new technologies and ways of working to “understand and optimise city systems to change how the city functions to improve how people live, work, play, move, learn and organise” – using ‘big data’ to help manage the city in ‘real time’.


Opportunities for Local Government
Significant investments have been made already in Smart Places. Evolving technology means there are continuing opportunities for cities and authorities to invest in infrastructure that can reduce costs and possibly also generate new revenues for themselves.

Predictive and real-time data, cloud-based technology, mobile apps, citywide data platforms, sensors, biometrics recognition, and geospatial technology can all support ‘places’ in advancing local economies, and helping them realise their vision and potential.

Authorities that employ artificial intelligence and data analytics can learn, adapt and respond to challenges, thereby facilitating ‘e-governance’, creating efficiencies in delivering public services, and promoting sustainable economic development.

By increasing the opportunity for the public to be involved in democratic decision-making via data platforms, local authorities may be able to produce policies that are aligned more closely to issues faced by the public.


Role of the legal sector
The creation of Smart Places – or further investment in existing sites - inevitably involves change that may involve new legal structures or processes.

This can be visible (such as the installation of sensor driven street lighting) or invisible (such as the change in thinking and approach to tackling current problems within communities such as a lack of housing, public health, management of waste and energy consumption).


Strategy and risk
With new amounts of data potentially influencing decisions surrounding the growth of smart cities, the role of the legal advisor in strategic decisions is often critical. Although generated data is intended to benefit lives, the information itself can be misconstrued and decisions made as a result could have negative effects. In these situations, legal advisors have a crucial role in identifying risk and providing advice on the correct management framework to support these technologies.


ICT and data protection
Information systems are mostly connected and delivered through free public wi-fi and other mobile applications, and therefore can be used to analyse how services are used, when they are used and who is using them.

With advancements in technology the nature of data is evolving. The vast amount of information produced presents the considerable legal challenge of striking a fair balance between innovation and data protection. It is therefore important to ensure new ways are found to shield all data to the levels required by the current data protection regulations.

This can involve facilitating technical contracts that are aligned with ICT infrastructure and systems.


Introducing new ways of communicating with the public - and opening up the process of decision-making – raises a number of issues around governance, risk and controls. The role of a legal advisor could be key in ensuring that the system adheres to the principles of privacy laws.


Public/private partnerships
In many instances, Smart Places and Cities are dependent on involvement from the private sector through partnership or joint development projects. There is a role for the legal sector in bring together these different parties to generate investment – and to access new thinking and ideas.

On the other side of this, existing arrangements with the private sector may impact or even prevent the delivery of Smart technologies, therefore understanding your current legal landscape will be critical.


With communities facing many problems including limited funding, population growth and land availability, Smart Places and Cities are a way to overcome local and regional difficulties. Technology can be a strong enabler in bringing local government and the societies it governs closer together.

When aligned with a strong vision, investment in new technology is already making a difference in many areas - creating efficiencies in delivering public services, funding sustainable economic development, and enhancing the quality of life for those that live there.


Richard Lane will be presenting at EM Lawshare Smart Places Seminar on 24 April

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