Intelligent Campus: Risks, Benefits and Ethics

Smart city technologies – from measuring air quality to tracking individuals – have been promoted as hugely beneficial, but also criticised as surveillance environments that deprive citizens of privacy and increase existing inequalities. Intelligent campuses use similar technologies in locations where the boundary between public and private spaces and activities is even more complex. Users who feel their intelligent campus is “creepy” will change behaviour in ways that damage both the campus’s intelligence and its teaching and research functions. Campus managers must therefore select, design and operate their activities in ways that make their value clear to all those who visit, teach, research, study or live on the campus.

In 2011, European Data Protection Regulators endorsed a toolkit for assessing and managing the risks of using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags. Intelligent Campus applications share many of the same issues, so Jisc has generalised and extended this toolkit to help universities and colleges assess the intrusiveness of their intelligent campus projects and determine whether the risks can be managed to an acceptable level. We’d welcome your comments on the draft version of the toolkit, and will be trying it out in a workshop at our next Community Event, in Birmingham on May 7th.

Data Protection law is, however, an incomplete guide to the appropriate conduct of an intelligent campus. In particular, principles of notice and choice are less effective when there is continual monitoring of physical and digital infrastructures that are essential for the campus’s research and teaching purposes. Organisations need to consider ethical questions: what they should do with sensors and data, and how they should make those decisions. Ethical codes already guide the use of online data in research and policy development. Applying these to the intelligent campus highlights a key role for campus users in choosing the purposes technologies are used for, how those are implemented and monitored. A successful intelligent campus, or city, must be based on the intelligence and insights of its citizens.

The Journal of Information Rights, Policy and Practice has just published my paper exploring these issues: See No… Hear No… Track No…: Ethics and the Intelligent Campus.

Leave a Reply

The following information is needed for us to identify you and display your comment. We’ll use it, as described in our standard privacy notice, to provide the service you’ve requested, as well as to identify problems or ways to make the service better. We’ll keep the information until we are told that you no longer want us to hold it.
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *