I’ve a number of thoughts in this piece–government as steward of data, the need for a digital bill of rights, and the challenge of a coherent approach to technology across government.

Accordingly, government is held to higher levels of accountability than commercial operators. Checks and balances exist quite deliberately to limit and to hold officials and ministers — both public servants — to account. The Australian government needs to ensure digital technology not simply delivers better services but supports democratic norms and institutions as well.

To up its game, the federal government needs a better conceptual model of how technology fits with democratic government.

Technology is now core to the interaction between government and citizens. But internally it is seen primarily as a cost centre, or to support efficiency. Government is better at designing systems for its own interests than for the average member of the public – robodebt shows how things can easily go wrong.

Consequently, the social contract between citizens and government has been eroded. Government has become a major data collector; citizens increasingly subjected to decisions shaped by technologies of which they have limited awareness. Moreover, as civilian competence inside government shrinks, defence and national security concerns increasingly dominate, tipping the balance against transparency and liberty.

The relationship between citizens and government needs to be recast to suit a digital democracy. Government’s role should be that of steward, rather than controller, of citizen data.

And if serious about democracy, government should consider a bill of digital rights. Such a bill would place the citizen, the individual, fully at the centre of system design and operation, so that it reflects and protects their interests and needs – even against government itself.

The full piece is at InnovationAus.