September 30, 2021

Getting Smart About Smart Cities

New CNAS Policy Brief Examines How to Secure Smart City Technology in the Indo-Pacific

Washington, September 30, 2021—The potential benefits of “smart cities”—cities with extensive 5G networks that monitor and connect utilities, infrastructure, and services—are immense. But vulnerabilities in these new technologies can provide authoritarian governments ample opportunity to exploit critical areas like data governance, surveillance, human rights and civil liberties, privacy, and transparency. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Indo-Pacific region, now a focal point of the competition between liberal democracies and authoritarian governments such as China over setting digital norms and standards for new technology.

A new policy brief, “Getting Smart About Smart Cities,“ by Joshua Fitt, Research Associate with CNAS’ Indo-Pacific Security Program, examines some of the crucial systemic vulnerabilities that facilitate misuse of smart city technology by governments, and provides examples of cities across the region that have successfully safeguarded these vulnerabilities.

The policy brief urges the United States to lead a global effort to ensure smart city technologies are responsibly used in a way that supports protection of civil liberties and aligns with liberal principles; and offers a number of guiding principles for policymakers to further facilitate the growth of responsible smart city development in the Indo-Pacific.

“Smart cities appear poised to transform the future of urban life over the next century,” concludes Fitt. “Whether that transformation is for better or for worse depends on how well the United States, allies, and partners—particularly in the Indo-Pacific—can work together to set norms around the implementation of smart city technology. The potential benefits are well worth the effort of rising to the challenge.”