Digitalised administration makes it easier for the authorities to share data. The Estonian government operates according to the «ask only once» principle, and citizens only have to enter their data once. In Germany, citizen data is still distributed across different filing cabinets like treasures simply waiting to be analysed for the public good.
Government authorities could collect and collate even more data, such as administrative data, communication data and health data. At best, this would make administrative processes more efficient and our lives easier: Big Data for President. According to Sikkut, the government’s analysis of data helps to reveal citizen’s requirements and needs.
Software could be used to find out what we are concerned about based on the websites we visit. Analysing health data could provide early warnings about diseases, and analysing income and tax data would bring irregularities to light sooner. All kinds of forecasts could be created. The police might even use algorithms to arrive at crime scenes before crimes actually happen.
There are also potential downsides to big data that have to be considered. Government-funded data collection and analysis would subject individual citizens to even more scrutiny. Are our optimisation efforts compromising privacy much to the delight of the secret services?
Even when personal data is technically anonymised, the sheer volume of data could make it possible to retroactively link it to that person. The right to informational self-determination also exists in respect of data stored by public authorities, and they have to have an individual’s explicit consent for each time data is processed. It’s also important to ensure that people who aren’t online are not disadvantaged.
Data is often viewed as a kind of commodity, as the «new oil». That view is too narrow, though, because personal data is a human being’s digital self, and according to the German Constitution, human dignity is inviolable. There’s no doubt that companies would love to have the funds to build a digital administration. But caution is advised: all that data might be used against us one day.
There have been an increasing number of attacks on IT systems in recent years. Estonia doesn’t share health data with third parties and its citizens can prevent the disclosure of certain information in their health profiles, but only until the next data leak. Having too many security functions generally has a detrimental effect on usability. A completely networked public administration increases the likelihood of attacks, data could potentially be manipulated, or tapped into by criminals or the secret services, and there are many unknowns.
The same concerns exist with regard to electronic elections, which are an attractive option for both citizens living abroad and citizens living at home. An investigation into the Estonian e-voting system revealed that it has significant deficiencies and the voting software doesn’t meet the necessary security standards. Elections also have to be open to scrutiny, which isn’t really possible with computer systems. They can be manipulated and they aren’t transparent.