People make technology. Technology, in turn, influences our lives, our societies and even our ethics. Which decisions may be taken by algorithms instead of by humans? The data collected by sensors in our streets, to whom does it belong? Do we entrust the care of our elderly to robots? These questions concern all of us. The development of new technologies therefore cannot be left to engineers and managers. New technology requires public debate and democratic control.

All over Europe, municipalities want to become ‘smart cities’, front-runners in the use of big data and smart information technology. These technologies observe, decide and act with a certain degree of autonomy: from sensors, to algorithms, to robots. Local politicians might find it hard to keep up to speed with the technologies deployed in and by their city, let alone to weigh the pros and cons before the technolo­gical innovations are actually developed and implemented.

Smart technologies offer opportunities for improving the quality of life in cities, for reducing their ecological footprint and for creating new urban commons, but may also present threats to civil liberties and to social justice. Therefore the smart city should not be an goal in itself. Data collection and artificial intelligence must be steered by values.

This Charter for the Smart City puts the values of democracy, connectedness, human dignity, privacy, sustainability and equality at the heart of smart cities. Local politicians and active citizens who share these values, may use the principles in this Charter as starting points for democratic debate and informed moral judgement on technological innovations in their communities.

Click on a principle to read the explanation.

A. Democratising the development of technology

1. Ensure public debate and democratic governance, as technology influences who we are and how we live together. Enshrine public values in the design requirements of technology.

2. Promote the involvement of all stakeholders in the development and implementation of technology. Innovations must take the values and needs of users into account.

3. Invest in technological citizenship. Work together with citizens and create space for experiments.

4. Anticipate the unforeseen consequences of technology. Call upon the imagination of scientists, philosophers and artists. Take responsibility.

5. Let knowledge be free. Do not lock technology up in patents. Use open standards and free open source software.

B. Technology in service of democracy and fundamental rights

6. Prioritise technology that connects people. Nurture dialogue.

7. Let technology contribute to a vital democratic culture. Protect citizens against manipulation.

8. Protect privacy and personal information. Give citizens control over their data and prevent class justice.

9. Share data that is not traceable to a person. Such data is a public commons. Keep in mind that not all knowledge can be captured in hard data.

10. Take care that government ICT systems respect the principles of good administration. Introduce the right to the central rectification of data.

11. Set limits to decision making by algorithms and ensure human control. Have algorithms checked for discriminatory bias, and comply with the duty to state reasons.

12. Work on a public digital infrastructure. Offer a platform to service providers, citizens' initiatives and urban commons.

C. Technology in support of green and social values

13. Technology must contribute to sustainability. Use all policy tools to accelerate the deployment of green technology. Make sure our smart city is not someone else’s environmental disaster.

14. Organise resilience: avoid excessive dependence on digital systems, retain non-digital options and invest in cybersecurity.

15. Choose for lively public spaces that invite movement and encounters, and where people are not constantly monitored.

16. Recognise the right to meaningful human contact. We cannot outsource the care for others to robots. Contact with citizens at the government office, both online and offline, must hold the potential to lead to changes in government decisions.

17. Combat the social and digital divide. Provide a basic digital service for people with few digital skills. Stand up for the rights of workers and for a fair distribution of income, wealth and housing.

18. Promote a fair platform economy. Implement tailor-made policies to safeguard public values. Prioritise non-commercial platforms or create public platforms.

This project is organised by the Green European Foundation with the support of Wetenschappelijk Bureau GroenLinks (NL), Green Economics Institute (UK) and Institute for Active Citizenship (CZ), and with the financial support of the European Parliament to the Green European Foundation.