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Digital public services in 2020 – a high-level debate

A technology workshop, which is part of a "major inquiry" into how public services could and should look in 2020 took place in central London this week under the auspices of the RSA.

Whether the public should have a right of opting out of their personal information being given to the government for the benefit of citizens generally was a key theme. A Computer Weekly journalist was asked to speak on privacy, technology and security.

The meeting was part of the 2020 Public Services Trust and Commission on 2020 Public Services, which aims to set out the challenges problems facing public services. It will suggest practical solutions which have cross-party support.

These are some of the points made at the meeting, some of which are conflicting:

People share information, sometimes with abandon, on Facebook and on other social networking sites. So they may be happy to share their information with the government to help provide better public services.

Millions of people have sent e-mails to the government, particularly to Downing Street. The government could use those 11 million e-mail addresses to inform people about public services and information they may find useful.

The ability to opt out of the NHS Care Records Service could make it difficult to identify the most suitable people for clinical trials.

Publicity over data losses and the database state, are creating a risk-averse culture which could stop citizens getting information they would find useful, such as statistics on the performance of schools and particular parts of the health service.

  • Linking benefits data held by the Department for Work and Pensions with NHS information could pinpoint the GPs who are too easily signing sick notes.
  • With more data sharing there could be a government portal which enables citizens to check the data held on them by the state.
  • When citizens give personal information to the state they should be able to control its use and what it says about them.
  • The risks you take when you give your private information to your bank are acceptable for the benefit of receiving an online banking service. Giving private information to the government for unclear benefits is a different proposition.
  • When citizens give confidential information to social workers, schools and their GP they do not expect it to be widely shared. One attendee who works in the NHS said that patients with erectile dysfunction would not want that information uploaded to a central "spine" database. If personal information is shared widely, parents will deliberately withhold information from social services and GPs.
  • A fear of the state aggregating personal information on individuals is not confined to privacy campaigners but to some attendees at the RSA meeting; and they are among those who are influencing the future of what is known as digital Britain.
  • Citizens may sacrifice the right to confidentiality of their personal information for the public good.
  • When the public complains about the health service on NHS Choices, it is to no purpose because directors in the NHS are not given details of the complaints to rectify weaknesses.
  • When Downing Street officials ask the Department of Health to reply to a popular e-petition on say, proposed hospital closures, the Department is unlikely to give a thoughtful response. This can discourage interaction between citizens and the Statel.

2020 Public Services Trust >>


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