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Friday, 4 July 2014

Are we ready for Government 3.0?

I always enjoy writing about what I am seeing in our increasingly technology influenced world. I am sure you would agree that some of the things are exciting and have improved our way of life while others a little less so. This blog explores a subject that urgently needs to be examined and I believe, action needs to be taken, before there becomes a gaping hole in the way we live our lives.  I know dramatic, but read on.

As our world becomes more “technologically digital”, the role of government needs to evolve. Of course some of you will say governments are already on that journey, you only have to look at their efforts to have twitter accounts or even a Facebook page (yes they exist and some are quite scary!) to see they are at least trying!  OK fine, I’ll give you that, they are evolving.  But let’s call this “Government 2.0” and define it as: “governments providing online services, as well as access to, information”. What they really need though, is to evolve to the next stage, in the digital world and begin to understand (and hopefully take action) there will be laws that need to be either written or rewritten to support this evolution. Easier said than done, right?

Think for a moment about how quickly we see new innovation compared to what it was 10 or 20 years ago.  Today the rate of technological change means that governments are struggling to keep up. Ultimately this has led to, or will eventually lead to, governments establishing new ministries (state departments) focused on technology. Now, I am not talking about evolving a telecom regulator, I am referring to the need for dedicated ministries (not a shared government portfolio) focused on protecting businesses, people and even government from digital conflicts or disasters. This requires a rethink of existing laws, policies, education and state run programs. Admittedly, some governments have started down this path, but think about the Secretary of State, or the Secretary for National Security, I believe it is time to introduce the Secretary of Technology as a core government department to address the broader role Technology is playing in our daily lives today.

Here’s a thought for you - at the rate of change, to our digital world, we are led by world leaders, Supreme Court judges and others who have not been born during the digital age – not a bad thing but does place them at a disadvantage.  Also bear in mind that governments have attempted to influence the digital world on their terms by either blocking out online information, ignoring it, or feebly attempting to engage through casual posts, etc. only to become very upset that someone has the audacity to respond to something they have posted negatively, as if their view is beyond repute (?). Now I want you to consider a Google vs. Apple court case going to the Supreme Court in the US for resolution. How do you think this will play out?

Trust me when I say that my aim here is NOT politics.  I have no political stance other than to have you, as my reader, appreciate that we do need to evolve our thinking. In fact, I think we need Governments to evolve to a 3.0 operating environment similar in a way that we now see the web moving into a Web 3.0 iteration. Consider for a moment the briefings that government panels have on natural resource availability, the environment, national security, etc.  Shouldn’t there be one for technology updates? Our technological world is evolving in months now not years, and soon I expect that will be weeks. Consider thumb print technology identification, commercial air drones, self driving cars, etc. all of which are already and will quickly become common place. Do our air and road laws need to change? Does Personal security need to be driven more by governments or global organizations to ensure standards for personal devices?

Don’t get me wrong, governments are attempting at different levels to stay ahead of this but, as an example, do you think blocking an IP address to protect citizens from inappropriate content is enough? Should people have the choice to have content removed if they don’t like it? Or chase down that disruptive influence? Think about recent government interventions when they have simply “disconnected” the web…really?  We all know astute web users who can find alternative ways to stay in touch with the outside world, through satellite, mobile phone, remote vpn’s, etc.

Now, it is not all doom and gloom. I have been impressed (scary but true) with the Californian state government empowering individuals to request their social media presence be deleted when they reach 18; or in Europe where the European Union has legalized the right to request that search results be removed by those who perceive their privacy has been or will be breached. Lastly the growing debate around Data Sovereignty is seeing some exciting discussions led by governments as to hat policies and laws are now required. Of course these are great steps, but are we just painting over the cracks. There is a bigger issue forming and that is the need for awareness and education. This is going to be critical if we are all going to live in this digital world. Would we need the Californian law if our children and even us, as adults for that matter, were taught the power of the net and the responsibilities for self that go with it?

We need to educate the public and create the appropriate laws for things like:  stalking someone through the web.  Does this have the same legal implications as it does in the real world?  In both cases it certainly has the same damaging emotional toll on the victim.  How about defamation? This is something we are familiar with in print media, but it is more so now on the web than ever before – especially in Social media circles. What if children and adults understood that all acts online were actually treated in the same way as if they were in the real world? (Imagine having to ask permission from your friends each time you wanted to share something of theirs on the web … look out Facebook!)

I do hope this has given you some food for thought and I hope that there are some government types or thought leader types out there who will contribute to this discussion.  I would love to hear about a government who has formed a Technology Ministry or department that is able to consider the rapid evolution of technology, the increasing role it has in our daily lives and the need to protect and educate everyone on what is and isn’t appropriate. Of course some will say the web is an open place and should be self regulated, however we must always bear in mind not everyone has the same level of technology understanding and education.  To ensure the web is a part of everyone’s life, we need to be able to provide people with the same level of safety and self awareness they have come to know in the real world.  I strongly believe governments and other such institutions need to evolve hence it is not a question of if but more how long we will have to wait for Government 3.0.