Digitise now

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Arguments for digital public services mount, fuelled by examples, says Paul Hearns



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12 July 2019 | 0

I am a great advocate of digital services for the citizenry of this country.

Secure, privacy-aware, appropriate services that allow a citizen to access government are the way forward for a growing population where public service budgets are not growing by the same margin.

And if ever there was a case for it, it is the current story on RTE News about the fact that a large section of people who have been handed driving penalty points have not had them applied because they did not present their licence.




According to the story, two-thirds of motorists that have been convicted of speeding offences failed to present their licence in court and thus may not have received penalty points due. The implication, the story says according to road safety campaigners, is that the low numbers of licences being recorded means there are drivers out there who should be disqualified but remain on the road due to the inability to apply the points to the respective licence.

Over the past two-and-a-half years, figures released by the Courts Service show the number of driving licences recorded for those convicted of speeding was 34%.

Why is this the case?

Surely, if a person can be identified sufficiently to have them appear in court, then it should be possible to locate that person on the database of licenced drivers and thus apply the awarded points? Surely, it is also possible for a garda by the side of the road, or even via a car-borne computer, to access the DB of drivers and ascertain what the points level of a presented licence is?

Apparently not.

There is currently a furore around the Public Services Card (PSC), and rightly so as it has been so cackhandedly introduced as to be laughable. But the argument for unique identifiers for the citizenry to prevent this kind of ridiculousness has never been stronger.

The public services need to get there houses in order to communicate clearly and comprehensively, what data is gathered, by whom, for what purpose and held for how long, rather than simply assume that they can do what they will with data. Only when the value of these unifying qualifiers is expressed to the citizen in terms of improved services and benefits, will attitudes change to acceptance and even eagerness to see what new value can be delivered.

Until then…

Another point of note this week was a tech giant breaking ranks on what is a widely held consensus. Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act holds that a company owning a public platform is not legally liable for the vast majority of user generated content on that platform. This is the law that allows some of the major social media platforms to exist at all. It is under fire, but rarely from within the industry itself, for obvious reasons.

However, in a blog post, Ryan Hagemann, IBM’s government and regulatory affairs technology policy executive broke ranks to criticise it.

“Instead of holding all online platforms exempt from liability
by default, IBM believes that the exemption should be conditioned on companies
applying a standard of “reasonable care” and taking actions and preventative
measures to curb unlawful uses of their service,” writes Hagemann.

This may sound innocuous, but it is a fairly major shift from the unified front that is normally seen no this issue. It may be the beginning of something that ends up being far larger.

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