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Westminster View: Tory #DigitalFail

Chi Onwurah | June 19, 2015
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Chi Onwurah spells out some tests by which to measure the new government's digital claims.

A couple of weeks ago I spoke at the webwewant festival about two key tests I would use to hold this newly elected Tory Government to account on digital Government.

Firstly, who owns public sector data? Before the election Labour committed to enabling citizens to own and control data about them held by Government. Data is becoming one of the most sought after 'commodities' in the world, driving new business models and attracting investment. The Government will be faced with a serious of choices on how they collect and treat our data and if we are not vigilant citizens will see their data nationalised away from them.

The second question is who has access to digital services. GDS have done a great job in putting services online, making them more agile and responsive, but the last government forgot digital inclusion for most of its tenure. When it did finally get round to thinking of inclusion, it demonstrated a wholesale poverty of ambition, its target for inclusion was 90 percent. And so apparently it remains although when I asked Matthew Hancock that question he chose to answer with a mathematical test.

Not to support people to get online whilst making it mandatory that some key services are accessed online is a recipe for frustration and misery. I regularly see in my surgeries constituents who are forced to go to foodbanks to survive, having lost all benefits because they cannot sign on, or do their mandatory work searches, online. That is unfair and a massive stain on technology, turning it from a force for good to a force of oppression.

I might have thought I'd have to wait some time to have my tests 'tested'. But no. With the ink on the Queen's speech barely dry the Government has given me a choice of examples on where it is falling down.

Let's take the recent announcement that Government is investing in the "first ever cross-Whitehall contract to monitor what people Tweet, post and blog about the Govt." The Independent reported that five companies have been approved to keep an eye on Facebook, Twitter and blogs and provide daily reports to Whitehall on what's being said in "real time". Now in addition to the question of whether the Government should be doing this, there is the concern over what it is going to do with the data it collects.

Twitter and Facebook are of course in the public domain (though not everybody fully realises that) but much of the other data Government holds on you is not - is there going to be the possibility to tie up your tweet on HMRC customer service to your late tax return? Facebook sets out in its terms and conditions that 'you own your own data' though it does not clarify what that actually means. But Government is behind Facebook in not even setting out any principles


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