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City of Syracuse, SU enter into data sharing agreement

Tom Magnarelli
The Syracuse Common Council approved the agreement Monday.

The city of Syracuse is entering into a data sharing agreement with Syracuse University. But some on the city’s common council are skeptical. 

The city will share datasets with students from the School of Information Studies at SU, through a cloud computing platform. The students get real experience practicing what they learn in class. City officials will get a better understanding of the information they collect.

Sam Edelstein, chief data officer with the city, said a broad range of information can be shared, like the energy use of the city’s new streetlights or code violations. He said most of the data, coming largely from infrastructure projects, is already made public or could be made public.

“We just have a lot of information and we’re going to collect a lot more of it in the coming years," Edelstein said. "We will never have the staff to be able to analyze all of it and make the decisions that we need to make. Tapping into expertise and resources at the university is kind of a no-brainer to me.”

But some on the council questioned the security of the cloud platform after recent cyber-attacks on the city school district and Onondaga County libraries left some systems inoperable. Councilor Khalid Bey said he wants more specifics on what data the city will be sharing.

“I’m certainly a person that’s for creativity and innovation, but we have to be careful about being creative at the expense of the taxpayer,” Bey said. "Hackers are very good. We learned that. I want us to be a little bit more clear about what we're doing. I can see the value of the exchange. But I thought the downplay on our concerns with the security, relative to that data, was a little negligent." 

In response, Edelstein said no personal information will be shared and moving data to the cloud, backs-up information separate from the city’s core systems. Despite Bey’s objection, the council approved the agreement and projects could begin in the next couple of months. 

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.