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The controversial Quayside project, a smart city plan being developed by Sidewalk Labs, has come to an end amidst “economic uncertainty” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), which raised alarm bells over privacy rights since the project was launched, has called Sidewalk Labs’ decision to pull out of Toronto a “victory for privacy and democracy …”

The development of the Quayside project started in 2017, when Waterfront Toronto partnered with Google’s sister company Sidewalk Labs. The goal was to create a smart city community that would include an “open digital infrastructure that provides a shared foundation for using urban data to improve quality of life.”

According to the project’s website, the community’s data would be “publicly accessible” to “researchers and the community in real time” so that third parties could build “new services or competitive alternatives to existing ones.”

However, in a public statement released May 7, Sidewalk Labs CEO Daniel Doctoroff announced that because “unprecedented economic uncertainty has set in around the world and in the Toronto real estate market, it has become too difficult to make the 12-acre project financially viable ...”

“The Quayside project was important to us, and this decision was a difficult one,” he added.

The CCLA also released a statement on May 7, noting the association has “always said the Quayside smart city project … needed to be reset.”

“We launched our court application to help make that happen. Today’s news that Sidewalk Labs has withdrawn from pursuing the project is a victory for privacy and democracy, clearing the way for that reset to take place,” the statement added.

According to the CCLA’s website, the association, along with co-applicant Lester Brown, launched legal action against “Waterfront Toronto, and all three levels of government; seeking a reset of the Sidewalk Toronto project.”

The CCLA’s statement stressed that Waterfront Toronto “never had the jurisdiction to sign off on a data surveillance test bed with a Google sibling.”

“Serious harms to privacy would have been our future,” the statement added, noting that the “current Canadian regulatory landscape simply lacks modernized privacy legislation to provide essential safeguards to protect residents and visitors from the kinds of ubiquitous and intensive sensor-laden infrastructure that was envisaged.”

The CCLA believes that a “major factor” in the project’s “reset” was made possible through community pushback and the association’s legal challenge.

“At CCLA, we strive to set precedents that support civil liberties, rights and freedoms across Canada. The precedent set (May 7) is a good one. We look forward to contributing to any constitutionally sound, transparent effort to get this right; to restructure the Quayside vision as one that will be genuinely sustainable, privacy respecting and inclusive — a Smart City that Toronto deserves,” the statement explained.

Waterfront Toronto board chair, Stephen Diamond, also released a statement on May 7, noting that this was not the outcome the board had “hoped” for.

“Today there is global financial uncertainty, but Waterfront Toronto has confidence in the city’s economic future, and will take the long view when making real estate and development decisions on Toronto’s waterfront,” he added.


Autor(en)/Author(s): Amanda Jerome

Quelle/Source: The Lawyer's Daily, 11.05.2020

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