A lack of trust is hampering take-up of online government services, according to a recent BCS Thought Leadership Debate. This is partially a result of several high-profile e-government failures and because of a general lack of confidence in government.
Transactions where government agencies handle personal data require a greater level of trust, the debate heard. In e-service transactions, the government has to be able to demonstrate confidentiality, competence and integrity in handling a person's data. IT leaders at the debate identified points on which members of the public have to be able to trust e-services:
● The service is working correctly and efficiently
● The information is only being used for its intended purpose
● Data is secure against hackers and malware.
Unfortunately, the government frequently fails in all of these areas, the debate heard. This is often due to a reluctance to test systems properly and a tendency to go for a big-bang implementation, rather than rolling out services gradually.
In terms of usability, the government's e-services can have basic design faults, such as misleading instructions, or no helpline numbers. Poor usability is one reason that the public has been put off e-services.
The government also offers few incentives to users. Online services are neither easier, quicker, nor cheaper than manual services. The debate heard that paying tax, for example, is no cheaper or easier on the web-based system, whereas booking a holiday online is.
Using e-services can make the public feel vulnerable. There is no guarantee that the data will not be used for other purposes, and the government offers no compensation. By comparison, when buying goods online, purchasers know that they could receive compensation.
With regard to data security, there have been examples where government databases have been penetrated - for example, details of staff at the Benefits Agency being used to commit benefit fraud.
According to the BCS debate, if, for instance, ID card data were to be held on a central database, somebody would eventually succeed in hacking into it and replicating it.
The BCS needs to encourage the government to be more open to the public, promote best practice and take a total quality approach to information assurance. This may engender the increased levels of trust that are needed, the debate heard.