The UK Government has led many governments across the globe since it developed the Government Digital Service (GDS) in 2011, and with the introduction of the Digital Economy Bill, this digitally leading nation is pushing the goal posts even further.
The Digital Economy Bill is one of the first of it’s kind to offer citizens the legal right to superfast broadband, while also proposing to regulate online content that requires mandatory age verification. The aim of the bill is to cement the UK as a ‘world leader in digital provisions” and to synchronise technological advancements with the economy, society and government.
There is still much debate to be had on the bill as it’s opened up a lot of questions regarding the remit of the government in the Internet era, including what infrastructure will be needed, and how data will be used in an increasingly open government.
This post looks at the UK’s GDS and how it’s brought about changes in digital delivery, and where legislation like the Digital Economy Bill will take us when it comes to creating better services through the use of open data.
Infrastructure fit for a ‘digital future’
The UK’s first (and former) Chief Digital Officer, Mike Bracken, recently stated in a podcast that being digitally literate goes beyond creating a nice looking website. But rather, websites should have the capabilities necessary to look after the government domain and transactions.
“We started to develop Internet era platforms to make the user experience better. These are fundamental changes to the foundation of the state, “ Mike states, and it’s clear to see gov.uk and gov.au are both great examples of government platforms that converge government sites while also making transacting with government easier for citizens. You can listen to the full interview below.
But taking a few steps back from even building a site that can be accessed by all, nations need to build the infrastructure necessary for all citizens, regardless of their location, to be able to access those sites.
The Bill will make it a legal right for every household to request a 10mbps broadband connection via a new Broadband Universal Service Obligation. This differs to the NBN that was introduced by the Labor government, and then later reeled-back by the Turnbull government as it was created to provide access to a fast Internet connection, not provide a legal right to fast broadband.
The right to Internet access is the idea that people must be able to access the Internet to exercise their rights as a citizen. It links with other fundamental rights including, the right to freedom of speech, the right to development and the right to freedom of assembly, so it’s easy to see this as a beginning of a new fundamental human right.
An interesting aspect to the Digital Economy Bill, however, will be the implementation of page 151, which states a requirement for age verification checks for pornographic content (although the practical matter of implementing this in the bill is not expanded upon in detail). The bill defines “pornographic material” as covering video, still images and even sound-only recordings. So it’s easy to see this may be a difficult task to regulate.
In essence, the right to Internet access does stipulate the idea that states may not unreasonably restrict an individual's Internet access. It cannot be denied that this will be a regulatory conundrum facing governments in the future, as governments will have to find a way to balance freedom of access to the Internet within the limits of regulatory boundaries.
Putting aside the murky water of trying to regulate online content, the bill will also aim to boost consumer and business rights, as new provisions will be introduced to ensure consumers are automatically compensated if things go wrong. An example of this would be if Telstra was mandated to refund customers during the recent (and embarrassing) outages they (and customers) experienced.
To execute this bill, the government will plan to cut the costs of new infrastructure and simplify planning rules to successfully build the broadband network. But only the future will tell how the bill will deliver broadband to every household in the UK, and how it will regulate and execute restricted content online, but one thing is for certain, this bill will be the first of many as government across the globe try to regulate Internet usage.
Everything comes back to data
Data connects the dots between systems and is the lifeblood of any information/digital economy. There is so much potential when it comes to utilising data within a government context, but there are also a lot of challenges that many agencies are more than aware of.
One of these challenges is converging different data sets so that citizens have the convenience of using one login to access all services. The Digital Economy Bill will attempt to transform the way data is shared across public sector bodies in an effort to create on-demand, personalised services.
The use of data is paramount to delivering great personalised service as personal preferences and information including location details can add value to a transaction.
To achieve a portal where citizens can login to one central place and access all their data including their tax returns, health record, transaction histories etc, collaboration will be key. Traditionally, local governments store vast pools of data in silos, and because they are disconnected from one another, departments struggle to gain a full picture of users.
The Digital Economy Bill will seek to overcome the silo effect of data by opening up key datasets for sharing or release upon request. But there is also so much more potential with data than just having one central location for citizens to access services. By using data generated from the many devices used by citizens, governments can pool information in a CRM and use it to cater their services to the preferences of citizens.
However, one of the biggest hurdles for governments as they transition towards an open data approach will be the security and anonymity of data. It’s clear that to overcome this many systems need to be restructured and security measures need to be put in place.