Making public on-line services fit for society: the Bled Report

On May 15th I promised to blog again on the conclusions from the session I chaired at the European Commission workshop in Bled on social inclusion, ethics, the “forced” use of e-government services and “digital citizens rights”. These have no official status, they but an extract from my report back to a plenary but …

 There were four main messages:


·    The transition to e-Government should never erode the quality of citizenship: it should enhance it or be neutral and be based on incentives not force. People should not be penalised for not using on-line services, including because many have very real access problems with current technologies, including the elderly and illiterate


·    Member states have different policies/attitudes towards the use of data and different levels and traditions of security and trust. This greatly complicates meaningful attempts at harmonization and/or cross-border information exchange.


·     There are serious concerns over the confidentiality and/or security of the technologies used for e-participation. It is all too easy for the carer, social worker, intermediary, head of household or “community leader” to monitor the Internet access of the disabled or vulnerable (especially those living in closed and/or minority communities). 


·    We need research and pilots to test the means of ensuring that, when desired (by the citizen, not just the state) such access is secure and confidential. There is also a need to ensure that the views and information collected are then safeguarded from abuse.      

These led to six recommendations:


·         Governments have to be “strongly encouraged” to offer online services via the citizens’ choice of channel and of intermediary and these have to be multilingual and secure.


·         It is unethical for Governments to demand information from citizens that they cannot keep secure and confidential.


·         We need to research into technologies fit for use by those most dependent on public services: the elderly, frail, vulnerable and disabled. This entails mixing audio, text and video-streaming with ore suitable means of authorisation and authentication.


·         Governments should make effective use of e-participation technologies to gather views on the channels people would like to use, their concerns and priorities for services and their feedback on the quality and relevance of the services they receive..


·         There is a need to identify and demonstrate good practice for the secure sharing of data across organizational boundaries, including national, involving relevant professional and practitioner bodies and trade associations.


·         We need greatly improved gradations of choice under the control of the individual, with allowance for changes of time and circumstance and with whom information is to be shared under what conditions – not just simplistic one-off choices or defaults..