Going live with digital services

Digital government in Ireland has underwent a tremendous shift in recent times. Amid the launch of MyGovID and the imminent unveiling of the digital services gateway, Ciarán Galway visits the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer to discuss the progress with Barry Lowry.

Opening the conversation, Lowry alludes to a substantial volume of progress. “We have established a governance group set up specifically to look at our digital targets and we also now have a digital programme office which is currently collecting lists of all the digital projects which are in train, are planned or have been delivered. The idea being that we will be able to provide eGovernment Minister Eoghan Murphy with a working dashboard of progress.”

The Government CIO also reveals that Minister Murphy will formally launch the digital services gateway at the eolas Digital Government Conference in June. Simultaneously, the Minister will launch the eGovernment Strategy which will be published later that month.

Lowry outlines: “The Strategy effectively has 10 actions in it which relate across the Public Service ICT Strategy Action Plan. It talks in more detail about some of the things that we are going to do, encompassing what has already been unveiled in relation to the area of digital and data.”

Crucially, there is an increased volume of ministerial communication around this. With the launch of MyGovID by Ministers Paschal Donohoe and Leo Varadkar and the subsequent press conference, Lowry feels that understanding has been enhanced. “We’re seeing an uptake and people are starting to recognise the importance of MyGovID as the other main part of the digital strategy that we’ve really been pushing, alongside the Public Services Card.”

Lowry is keen to illustrate why this is so important. “One of the key European digital agendas is the Digital Single Market (DSM). A lot of these initiatives are very much aimed at taking this forward. A critical component of this is verified electronic identification and authentication. They have an initiative called EIDAS, Electronic Identification and Authentication Service, and all 27 member states will start to develop similar means of offering online services and get to a point where they will be certified at EU level to be usable by anyone in Europe. Countries that have similarly certified services will then bilaterally engage to ensure that they are working.”

That provides a challenge for Ireland in that a single approach to verified identity and digital gateway is required. “Thankfully we had already anticipated this in the Strategy and that’s why MyGovID is so important – it aligns to the highest level of EIDAS security levels. Anyone with a MyGovID account will be permitted to use any services made available by the countries. So, eGovernment is very much a core part of DSM.”

Furthermore, in a post-Brexit context, many Government ministers have outlined that having a more high-profile role in Europe, for example being regarded as an exemplar in digital transactions, is critical. “The thing about the Public Services Card and MyGovID is that they enable both. If we talk briefly about GDPR, one of the key aspects is that an individual can go somewhere and find what data is held about them, amend it or ask for it to be removed. Currently you would have to engage with each of the departments individually. What we would like to start putting in place is a system whereby an individual could access the digital portal, enter a login and access information held across the various departments and agencies.

“There may be a certain element of society who preferred the world as it was with a much hazier relationship with Government.
I can understand that, but even there they have to accept that there are certain things which you must do if you have the capability.”

“The worst thing that could possibly happen is that an individual could access and see a namesake’s details because that represents a very serious data breach. What we have to do is ensure that we know it is definitely the correct individual, connecting this in the background and then provide you with the information you require access to and nothing else. That’s the direction we’re moving in, but absolutely critical to that is the whole concept of a verified indicator.”

Lowry’s team regard the Estonian model as the absolute zenith of what could be achieved in Ireland. “This is the journey that we are on, but that is also very much the aspiration. When people talk about being an exemplar in GDPR, it means that you’re using citizens’ data to provide them with better public services, never using it where it doesn’t need to be used and certainly never misusing it. To ensure all these standards are met is to provide the best service.”

Best service, for instance, arises when an individual’s name and address is held because they’ve applied for a passport, and when that individual then applies for a driving licence they don’t have to provide replica data because the information has been appropriately shared.

Lowry emphasises that it is crucial that only the necessary information is used. “The Government is in that space and that is what it is building out, for instance through the Data Sharing in Governance Bill. It’s setting out to create clear rules and procedures around data sharing and it’s also putting ministerial oversight above all those agreements.”

It is anticipated that this “will eventually get us to an Estonian-type level, firstly based upon a ‘tell us once, we use many’ principle, secondly that citizens can see the information held about themselves and amend it and thirdly you can see how your information is being used and have access to a formal complaints mechanism if you don’t like what you see”.

That is why MyGovID is regarded as crucial. An individual’s ID will connect both them and Government to a set of data and enable the individual to update information, such as an address associated with a passport, thereby ensuring that all other agencies who require that new data receive it.

“What we did when collecting information on the various digital services was to start identifying those which could be underpinned by the verified identifier. The advantage of the Public Services Card, MyGovID and the Safe Level 2 concept is the absolute security around it. It is designed to drive fraud out of the system. There is not a huge volume of passport fraud, but there is some. Any that we can drive out, especially in the current climate, is only a good thing.” Discussions held with Government service delivery departments have provoked pleasant surprise in relation to the potential of MyGovID.

There have been an estimated 2.4 million Public Services Cards issued already. That figure initially emerged from people in the receipt of welfare, mothers of children entitled to child benefit and new workers arriving in the State.

Lowry acknowledges: “That’s a comprehensive contingent, but there’s still a fairly large body of people that haven’t had a touch point yet. Passport renewal, when it happens, will obviously generate another huge tranche of people. It probably provides a faster and more efficient means to get a passport renewed because you’re not going to the local Garda station and hoping that they have time to see you. Instead you’re making an appointment at your local Intreo centre while you’re in town and all future requirements are underpinned in 10-minute visit. Once we bring in the driving and the theory test tranche, we will capture more new entrants.”

Over time, the number of people without a Public Services Card and who have no need for one will diminish to a relatively small proportion of the population.

While conceding that it will not assume the form of a compulsory national identity card, the Government CIO states: “I would like to say that every citizen will have a Public Services Card, but I’d would also like to say that this will occur because it’s understood as something of tremendous value.

“Once we start using it to underpin more services, people will forget that there was ever a reluctance to obtain a card in the first place,” he predicts. “It’s a good way of doing eGovernment and as a bank customer, for example, I expect a similar degree of security within their system, I don’t feel that is an inconvenience to me.”

Concluding the discussion, Lowry emphasises: “This is a Government approach that is responding to a very clear message. There may be a certain element of society who preferred the world as it was with a much hazier relationship with Government. I can understand that, but even they have to accept that there are certain things which you must do if you have the capability.

“Over the next 12 months we would like to get the Public Service Card over the 3 million mark, we would like to get MyGovID as close to 3 million as we can and we would like to be harvesting very clear evidence that the digital services gateway is not only being used, but is being appreciated.”

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