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Individual digital use in public policies: ineffective without security

Blurred Boundaries

Recently, the boundaries between the public and private, professional and personal spheres have become increasingly blurred. Digital with all its connected devices and shared spaces on the internet, plus the host of digital uses that go with them, are constantly intruding into our lives. These invasive elements make it hard when we want to get away from them, or make the distinction them between personal, professional, or public uses.

It is almost impossible for any working professional to escape this phenomenon. Public officials need to be particularly aware of this since they always have the responsibility of representing their institution in a professional manner. Unless they set up their accounts in a sufficiently detailed manner or create two separate accounts (professional and personal) they risk crossing these boundaries.

Whatever the case, individuals have become accustomed to behaving like customers in all circumstances. This is how the giants of Silicon Valley have achieved it, first by gaining their attention and then by “converting” them. With their ever more attractive designs, their ability to entertain and satisfy all needs with ever greater acuity and even predictability, their devices follow the users every move. They know how to follow the contours of their concerns and define them as “customers at all times”, ever more demanding and impatient.

From utility user to... customer?

This trend has now started to generate reactions in the public and administrative spheres. Faced with the need change, they have chosen to adapt. Some public transport companies and public transport authorities have already launched their transformation programmes, often to great fanfare. The machine seems to be up and running.

So, if we assume that this “customer” aspect is here to stay, then why not embrace it and learn from it? To this end, we should observe, analyze and understand the digital uses that underlie this phenomenon today, so we can integrate the lessons learned into the design of our public policies. This will not only facilitate the design of the solution but also facilitate its adoption.

Towards more inclusive initiatives

This is a new phenomenology that companies are already starting to take on board. To better integrate younger generations (and at the same time save money!), they have launched initiatives such as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programs. Employees can come to work with their own PCs or telephones, already set up for their private use, and have the programs they need for their work installed on them, without having to change devices. A nice extension of “working from home”, so they can be more productive but in a relatively relaxed way.

On the public side, there is a clear interest and some initiatives have emerged, particularly in countries where public infrastructure had yet to be developed but where private substitutes were available to “get the job done”, so to speak. This is the case of the Central African Republic, which introduced mobile money tax collection, then extended mobile payment to the payment of civil servants in several large provincial cities (Bossangoa, Berberati and Bouar), under the aegis of “Patapaye”, a programme conducted in partnership with Orange and Ecobank.  Across the continent, Africa, has been at the forefront of developing a sector of excellence in mobile payment.

Cybersecurity is indispensable

This dynamic is challenging and leads to considerable savings. Except that it comes up against certain security obstacles that are best anticipated when it comes to regal and strategic services. We are aware of the recent criticisms of states, who are extremely vulnerable to cyber-attacks, which have become ever more frequent during the health crisis.

Let’s step back a bit. Taken aback by the lockdown announcements, companies rushed to ‘working from home’, without having the certainty that their IT infrastructures which were suddenly so spread out or even “scattered” would provide the same security guarantees as their traditional server architecture. Even the most advanced companies or the most important administrations are vulnerable as they too are a gold mine for hackers. So “practicing openness” when it comes to public or state services can cause huge distress, because if a company is attacked and ransom demanded, it will face economic damage which can be very heavy. When it comes to a country, or a common good, and when we know the systemic nature of the global economy, it is a different matter altogether.

The security of people

But just as data must be secured by a cybersecurity policy, an equivalent must be proposed for the security of people. In other words, to give themselves the means to regulate their online behaviour. While individual digital uses can contribute to the evolution of our public policies, states cannot afford to run the slightest risk in this area. These uses must be given a realistic and secure functional framework in terms of uses and technologies. These are essential steps before raising the awareness of agents, citizens, and other stakeholders on these security issues, all of whom are reassured that the new protocols will have properly integrated known cyber risks and threats into their design.

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