Consider take-up rates, privacy issues in e-govt push

A man checks on his mobile phone along Change Alley during lunch hour in the Central Business District at Raffles Place, on Feb 24, 2016.
A man checks on his mobile phone along Change Alley during lunch hour in the Central Business District at Raffles Place, on Feb 24, 2016. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Proposals by government agencies to "share the data of citizens among themselves to anticipate their needs and make life simpler" should increase the convenience of and accessibility to services ("MCI workplan seminar: Govt looks to push e-citizen services on mobile devices"; last Friday).

In fact, more ambitious applications to socio-economic policies, for instance, to strengthen the sharing of information between the social service offices and voluntary welfare organisations, could improve the way assistance is provided.

Social workers can flag concerns during visits to households and, in the long run, the aggregated data can be used to evaluate schemes or craft recommendations across constituencies or demographics.

Yet, in these endeavours, concerns over adoption and privacy should be taken seriously.

Under the Smart Nation umbrella, different government agencies, perhaps coordinated by the Ministry of Communications and Information and the Infocomm Development Authority, may have launched various e-services, but what is often less clear is the extent of their adoption and their corresponding effectiveness.

It would, therefore, be useful to find out the number of active users for each app, whether there are overlaps in the functions of these apps, and if agencies consult one another before app development.

Besides justifying the use of manpower and resources, these are also opportunities to increase take-up rates among Singaporeans or to solicit feedback for different e-services.

And in these exchanges, privacy concerns are often taken for granted, even though little is known about how data and information are protected.

The trade-off between privacy and security is highlighted only when national security or surveillance are issues, even though users of e-citizen services should ask similar questions too, such as how data will be used and shared across agencies, whether users can control the type of personal information shared, and the conditions for opting in or out of the services.

Broader discourse in this vein will also shape the boundaries within which government agencies should operate, and encourage greater awareness among Singaporeans too.

Kwan Jin Yao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2016, with the headline 'Consider take-up rates, privacy issues in e-govt push'. Print Edition | Subscribe