Richardson Co-Authors “Smart City” Report


12.13.21 — So-called “smart city” programs that purport to use technology, data and corporate partnerships to solve social problems or improve government services and infrastructure, often fail to achieve their objectives, according to a new report, “Smart-City Digital ID Projects: Reinforcing Inequality and Increasing Surveillance through Corporate ‘Solutions.’” Co-authored by Professor Rashida Richardson, the report specifically examines an emergent form of smart-city projects called digital identification (“digital ID”). These projects seek to integrate financial services or products, transit payment functions, and access to government services. A global review of such projects shows that the promises of smart-city projects are often unmet, while the risks or tradeoffs associated are not adequately assessed or communicated to the public, says Richardson and her co-author Mizue Aizeki, Deputy Director of the Immigrant Defense Project.

The report details a contested effort to pursue a digital ID project in New York City. Advocates fought off an ill-conceived plan to add financial services and smart-chip technology to the city’s municipal ID, the IDNYC. The report offers timely insights on the risks and tradeoffs of digital ID projects as well as best practices and policy recommendations considering Mayor-Elect Eric Adams recently announced plans to create a centralized “MyCity” digital portal for all city services and benefits where residents can use a “chip-enabled” City ID.

The report also offers best practices and policy recommendations for smart-city project development and implementation. The recommendations offer best practices and approaches for:

1. Creating meaningful public and stakeholder engagement
2. Anticipating potential abuses and proactively create safeguards
3. Implementing transparency and accountability practices

“We hope that the report’s distillation of the concerns and failures of smart-city projects helps public officials think critically about such projects and the best practices and recommendations in the report offer a great starting point for how to ensure constituent needs are addressed, rather than corporate solutions,” said Richardson (right), who is on leave to serve as senior policy advisor for data and democracy in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

>> Read the full report

About the Immigrant Defense Project
The Immigrant Defense Project (IDP) is a New York-based nonprofit that works to secure fairness and justice for immigrants in the racially-biased U.S. criminal and immigration systems. IDP fights to end the current era of unprecedented mass criminalization, detention and deportation through a multi-pronged strategy including advocacy, litigation, legal support, community partnerships, and strategic communications. Visit and follow @ImmDefense.

About the Center for Law, Information and Creativity (CLIC)

The Center for Law, Information and Creativity (CLIC) is a convening space designed to amplify questions and conversations posed by Northeastern University School of Law students, affiliated faculty and community partners about the law’s role promoting the public interest through innovation and creativity.

About Northeastern University School of Law

The nation’s leader in experiential legal education since 1968, Northeastern University School of Law offers the longest-running, most extensive experience-based legal education program in the country and is a national leader in legal education reform. Founded with cooperative legal education as the cornerstone of its program, Northeastern guarantees its students unparalleled practical legal work experiences. All students participate in full-time legal placements, and can choose from the more than 1,500 employers worldwide participating in the school’s signature Cooperative Legal Education Program. The future of legal education since 1968, Northeastern University School of Law blends theory and practice, providing students with a unique set of skills and experience to successfully practice law.

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