Ottawa, April 7, 2022—Canadian municipalities have an opportunity to lead in responsible technology adoption by embracing thorough and innovative human rights-based approaches to intelligent community design.

This paper, Building Human Rights into Intelligent Community Design: A Focus on Canada, examined the types of digital systems and infrastructure being commissioned by cities in Canada, the potential risks these projects involve, and a discussion of human rights-based approaches to mitigating potential harms.

Cities have emerged as test beds for digital innovation. Data-collecting devices, such as sensors and cameras, have enabled fine-grained monitoring of public services including urban transit, energy distribution, and waste management, yielding tremendous potential for improvements in efficiency and sustainability. At the same, there is a rising public awareness that, without clear guidelines or sufficient safeguards, data collection and use in both public and private spaces can lead to negative impacts on a broad spectrum of human rights and freedoms.

Some municipalities address the potential risks of technology deployment through social impact parameters in traditional procurement but rarely consider human rights in these documents. Moreover, a piecemeal approach to human rights through procurement is often insufficient. This paper highlights a range of alternatives and complements to procurement that can improve the ability of cities to secure human rights and service objectives.

“The promise of a hyperconnected digital age empowers innovative services while at the same time generating a data footprint that can be revealing about the private life of the individual user. The construct of tomorrow’s smart cities should factor in the rights for privacy, transparency, and choices about data use that are essential for protecting the human rights of citizens.” —Namir Anani, ICTC President and CEO

The Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) is a not-for-profit, national centre of expertise for strengthening Canada’s digital advantage in a global economy. Through trusted research, practical policy advice, and creative capacity-building programs, ICTC fosters globally competitive Canadian industries enabled by innovative and diverse digital talent. In partnership with an expansive network of industry leaders, academic partners, and policy makers from across Canada, ICTC has empowered a robust and inclusive digital economy for over 30 years.

To arrange an interview on this study or other media inquiries, please contact Paul Stastny at [email protected] or 403.351.0138 Ext. 823.

A copy of the study can be accessed here.

A French language press release of this report is here.


Written by Phil Dawson, Technology and Human Rights Fellowship 2020-2021, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard Kennedy School, Faun Rice and Maya Watson, Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), Ottawa, Canada

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