Montreal Smart City Challenge Prize: Privacy Implications

by Sara Bannerman

By Serguei Tabatchenko, CIPPIC Intern

What is the plan?

Using its $50 million prize, Montreal wants to achieve holistic improvements in the quality of life of citizens: efficiency of municipal services, rich human relations, a healthy environment and stimulating, living environments where everyone feels included, regardless of culture, age, gender or disability (Proposal of City of Montreal, p. 1). The proposal is based on 15 months of intensive collective work as well as feedback from locals. As Montreal’s application video makes clear, the goal is to use technology to provide Montréalers with resources and infrastructure needed to function in a modern-day smart city (p 5).

What is the plan? Mobility

To improve mobility, Montreal will rely on a large-scale approach, named the Integrated Mobility component, and a small-scale approach, named the Neighbourhood Mobility component (p 6). The Integrated Mobility project is a collaborative effort between the Société de Transport de Montréal (STM) and the Autorité régionale de transport métropolitaine (ARTM) that aims to produce a new digital transportation platform (p 7). This open-source platform will combine the different modes of transit in the Greater Montréal Area (“GMA”) through a single app and provide a trip planning tool, similar to Google Maps, that will hopefully reduce car use by suggesting alternative public transportation routes (p 12).

The Neighbourhood Mobility project will build on the Integrated Mobility project and provide local mobility solutions targeted at the specific transportation needs of different urban communities (p 7 and 13). The project will set up neighbourhood fleets of shared self-driving cars, explore how to develop neighbourhoods to limit the need for trips outside the community, and make mobility inclusive of groups like seniors and people with low incomes (p 7). 

Both the Integrated and Neighbourhood Mobility projects were tested in 2018 through pilot projects, which demonstrated the potential, advantages and need for these programs in the GMA. Furthermore, with the help of a provincial grant, Montréal aims to pilot autonomous electric shuttles as an additional measure to improve mobility in the city (p 13).

What is the plan? Food Innovation

    Having one of the highest food insecurity rates in Canada at 11.3%, Montréal will implement an Integrated Local Food System to improve food access for vulnerable populations (p 8). The cloud-based system will be a one-stop platform for managing inventory, sales, food donations and deliveries, and will be based on existing infrastructure and food distribution channels in Montréal (p 8 and 14). Furthermore, the project will create a major urban greenhouse that will produce up to 3000 tons of fresh fruit and vegetables for local communities (p 9). The greenhouse will leverage thermal waste from a landfill site and provide better supply and demand information for local suburban farms, overall boosting local food production in the GMA.

What are the privacy implications?

The main concern here is the proposal’s push for data collection, processing and analysis, which carries many privacy risks. The GMA has partnered with McGill University’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Montreal (CIRM) to develop software that manages, processes and enhances data collected from the Integrated Mobility app (p 61). This will require infrastructure that allows for real-time data processing, access to a data library and software for data analysis as well as compliance with Quebec’s public sector privacy law, the Act Respecting Access to Documents Held by Public Bodies and the Protection of Personal Information (p 14). 

While the proposal discusses several privacy protection ideas such as consultation with cybersecurity firms, testing the “re-identification” of depersonalized data and a requirement to obtain meaningful consent from app users, the specifics and details of implementation are not discussed. This may be a problem for Montréal, a city that has historically struggled with inefficiency, overspending and corruption when building new infrastructure. Figuring out the details before the infrastructure is implemented is important for ensuring the long-term success of these proposed ideas and preventing the project from being delayed and over budget.