Digital public services explosion fuels citizens' privacy concerns
Source: Carmen Adamescu,EY Romania & Moldova

Governments pushing ahead with increased online services run the risk of alienating large numbers of their citizens due to concerns around data privacy, according to How can digital government connect citizens without leaving the disconnected behind? a new EY survey of 12,100 working age respondents across 12 countries. Conducted by Ipsos MORI, the survey further reveals a roadmap for governments attempting to deal with the increased digitization of services brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Over the past year, the pandemic has increased the need for governments to offer more services remotely, and in some cases they have been delivered entirely online. This has resulted in the generation of much larger volumes of citizens’ data which is then collected by governments.  Yet more than half (53%) of those surveyed think that privacy and security risks around how their data is shared outweigh the benefits. Forty-six per cent think data should not be shared between the public and private sector, with only 29% saying that it should. And 41% think data should not be shared within the public sector, while only 33% believe that it should. Almost three quarters of respondents (72%) are opposed to governments selling their personal data to a private sector company, even where the objective is to fund better public services or tax cuts.

Arnauld Bertrand, EY Global Government and Public Sector Consulting Leader, says: “The survey findings should be a wake-up call for governments across the world. The benefits of a more digital state, including increased efficiency, better value for taxpayers and better quality of service for citizens, will be significantly reduced if large segments of the population aren’t convinced of them and are at risk of disengaging from increasingly digitized public services. Many individuals could potentially be alienated, which could quickly become a dangerous problem for citizens, governments and society as a whole.”  

Technological optimism tempered by mistrust

While the survey reflects optimism that technology improves quality of life (according to 72% of respondents), there are significant concerns about its broader impact. Many believe that increased use of technology will potentially widen social inequalities, with 32% stating that technology will lead to greater social inequality and 34% stating that technology gives more power to those who are already rich and powerful.

There are further concerns around the impact of increased reliance on technology as a means for communication on social cohesion. Globally, 32% of citizens believe technology will make people feel less connected to their communities. However, demand still exists to further develop people’s digital skills. Sixty-one per cent say they would be likely to use government training schemes that improve their digital skills if they were available.  

Carmen Adamescu, Partner, Consulting, Head of Technology EY Romania & Moldova: "Every scientific and technological progress has been accompanied by pros and cons, benefits and challenges. The digitalization of public services is an indisputable necessity, as it solves citizens' problems quickly and efficiently, especially in the current context of the pandemic, in which social interaction between individuals has become an obvious danger. Governments are mandated to accelerate the digital development of these services, while having in mind adequate cyber security, and must consider the governance of these services for the benefit of citizens while adapting laws and rules for the current virtual environment. Technology really offers benefits to those who know how to use it and is a challenge for those who do not. The barrier of ignorance must be overcome through access to education and information and not through ignorance. Today's citizens no longer live in small communities, but are increasingly connected to online platforms, crossing the borders of countries and continents. Thus, digital governance, cybersecurity and education must be intrinsic components of digitization initiatives, facilitating and protecting the human-machine connection. "

Seven personas that governments must reach

The survey segments respondents into seven personas: Aspirational Technophiles, Capable Achievers, Diligent Strivers, Tech Skeptics, Privacy Defenders, Passive Outsiders and Struggling Providers. These categories offer insights into how governments should consider working with different societal groups. For example, the survey indicates that Aspirational Technophiles, Capable Achievers and Diligent Strivers are more comfortable with sharing their data to access a service or perform a transaction online, and with their data being shared. But there is a lack of support among Tech Skeptics, Privacy Defenders and Passive Outsiders about governments and businesses gaining access to their data.

These personas also give key insights into the perspectives of certain demographics around fundamental issues, such as immigration, climate change and globalization. 


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