“Soon, you may not need to seek out the government for a service that you need. The government service will come to you on your mobile device” (Government Looks To Push E-Citizen Services On Mobile Devices, Irene Tham).
Proposals by government agencies to “share the data of citizens among themselves to anticipate their needs and make life simpler for a smart nation” (ST, Apr. 28) should increase the convenience of and accessibility to services. In fact more ambitious applications to socio-economic policies, to strengthen the sharing of information between the Social Service Offices and voluntary welfare organisations – for instance – could improve the way assistance is provided. Social workers can flag concerns during visits to the households, and in the long run the aggregated data can be used to evaluate schemes or to craft recommendations across constituencies or demographics.
Yet in these endeavours, concerns over adoption and privacy should feature.
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 or 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 only highlighted when national security or surveillance are issues, even though users of e-citizen services should ask similar questions too: how will data be used and shared across agencies, whether users can control the types 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 cognisance among Singaporeans too.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.