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Saj Huq

Programme director, LORCA

As the future of mobility becomes smarter, we must treat people’s data as a public good

As Minister for Transport in 1969, Richard Marsh and his contemporaries oversaw the UK’s role in a defining era for global transport. According to a recent government report, this period of change was driven by consumer demand, technological innovation, government policy and the mid-term consequences of war.

Fast forward 50 years, and transport minister George Freeman’s recent speech outlining his plan for the future of mobility showed that similar market forces and drivers of change are still applicable today. Public expectations of the transport experience continue to rise and agile regulation that’s smart and adaptable to real-world changes will need to underpin it all.

With more and more people living in urban environments, the need to manage inner city congestion, reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality is becoming more critical. Innovation in mobility is one of the great challenges of our time. Freeman laid out a vision for a connected mobility ecosystem to address these challenges – a vision that fully involves the public. It centres around two key ideas; that the next phase of mobility will be people-orientated, and that the use of public data at scale will be crucial to informing the development of it.

We can’t disagree that these ideas are critical to the effective development of the future mobility ecosystem within urban environments. However, we need to do more to ensure that future solutions adhere to principles such as the responsible use of citizen data, privacy and security by design. If we want to catalyse progress, building trust across the system and gaining the public’s buy-in is key. People should have a broader understanding of not only how their data is being used but also why it’s so crucial to a cleaner, connected and more efficient future.

Data for the people

Several of the points raised by Freeman highlight the importance of data to the success of his plan, such as setting up a network of digitally connected testbeds. Data will be an essential asset to improving the efficiency of the mobility system, whether by unlocking information that the government is already sitting on through improved information sharing or enabling new ways to gain insights from the public. For example, he referenced the strategies of the life sciences and agri-tech sectors, which collate data into hubs that allow it to be leveraged more easily at scale.

And since many innovations like autonomous cars and e-scooters require user information, mobility companies have a responsibility to collect it securely and responsibly. This balance between innovation, security and privacy is not only relevant to developers of mobility solutions, but is also of increasing importance to major supply chain participants such as telecommunication provides who have an increasingly prominent role to play in securing the future mobility ecosystem.

Transparency means trust

All this means that people are in the driving seat of the future of mobility, so we have a collective responsibility to make sure commuters are brought on the journey.

However, the responsibility doesn’t just fall on the government. Whether it’s public infrastructure bodies such as Transport for London or data security specialists, anyone benefiting from public data must keep people informed about how their data is being used for the good of the population. That’s the only way that essential public trust can be won. And that’s why at Plexal, we support the UK’s most innovative mobility startups and co-locate them with LORCA: a government-backed cybersecurity programme that’s encouraging collaboration between sectors and companies of all sizes to help secure the UK’s digital economy now and in the future.

Earning trust also hinges on creating a secure by design mentality for new mobility solutions. This term has traditionally been linked to enterprise technologies within the B2B domain. But the emergence of cyber-physical systems has allowed the public infrastructure around us to be imbued with technology and, as such, the transition of cyber risk out of the business domain and into our everyday, physical environment. It’s crucial that private enterprise helps the government apply secure design principles to new mobility systems so that security is embedded at their core, rather than bolted on as an afterthought.

As the way we move around urban centres becomes more reliant on technology for efficiency, we will increasingly become digital citizens where our data is a key currency within the digital economy. Security might become an important pillar of public infrastructure development in this future, but without the population understanding and trusting the value of data-led systems, we’ll never see the smart mobility solutions we so desperately need to help our cities cater to growing populations and evolve in an environmentally friendly way.

Saj Huq is programme director at LORCA, the London Office for Rapid Cybersecurity Advancement