News | METRANS Researchers Collaborate with City of Long Beach on NSF Study of Data Privacy

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METRANS Researchers Collaborate with City of Long Beach on NSF Study of Data Privacy

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

by James Reuter

Two METRANS researchers recently partnered with the City of Long Beach to win a National Science Foundation (NSF) planning grant to research, develop, and pilot a community-informed digital rights platform that can serve as a national model for acknowledging data privacy as a human right.


The grant provides $147,370 for a full fiscal year beginning in July 2023. Dr. Gwen Shaffer, who will serve as the project PI, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Journalism and Public Relations at California State University, Long Beach. Dr. Tyler Reeb, Director of Research and Workforce Development at the Center for International Trade and Transportation, will join her as co-PI. Ryan Kurtzman will also serve as an additional co-PI in his capacity as the Smart Cities Manager for the City of Long Beach.


The NSF project builds upon research that Shaffer and Reeb have led as Principal Investigators (PI) for the Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center (PSR UTC). As the introduction of advanced data-collection technologies into transportation systems, utility services, and other municipal and community services continue to accelerate, the security and privacy of that data is a clear concern. Shaffer previously served as the principle investigator for a PSR-funded research project titled, “Using artificial intelligence to improve traffic flows, with consideration of data privacy principles.” More recently, Reeb was awarded a PSR-funded research project titled “Implementing a Community-Based Mobility Lab: Improving Traffic, Protecting Data Privacy” which commences later this year.


The goals of the digital rights platform pilot are as follows:


  • Examine data privacy rights and expectations across competing needs of local government, third-party vendors and residents, and the City’s Data Privacy Guidelines.
  • Examine how traditional power structures (i.e., city government, technology platform vendors) mobilize smart city technologies as proxies for infrastructure and human decision-making.
  • Examine how trust is constructed; study how strongly residents value/weigh factors such as transparency, accountability, agency, integrity, accuracy, and fairness when interacting with smart technologies.


A QR Code allows a Long Beach resident to access a digital dashboard with information on license plate recognition technology


Shaffer and Reeb’s project is designed to raise awareness quickly and effectively. Signage with QR codes will be found adjacent to or embedded within civic technologies (such as e-totems and license plate cameras) across the City of Long Beach and will lead residents to a digital dashboard with information on the technology’s purpose. The dashboard also allows the viewer to update data collection preferences and communicate with local government officials. Once residents understand how the City utilizes specific technologies and the outcomes of those uses, they can decide whether and how they are comfortable with data collection. Additionally, the NSF research team will facilitate community workshops and civic user testing sessions hosted in accessible public or virtual spaces, and the researchers will provide translation services, childcare, gift cards and other accommodations.


For more information about the City of Long Beach’s Digital Rights Platform, go to: