Some issues to fix in the trust section

  • The opening paragraph paints a rosy picture that does not align to the Wellbeing Measures, which say the Media is trusted by less than 50% of the population, and the Parliament only slightly more. There is more trust for the people, health system and courts than for the media and parliament. In fact, declining trust has had real world implications, from vulnerability and social exclusion to vaccinations and public compliance. So surely improving that trust is key to a functional and cohesive democracy? Growing trust in both the public sector and 4th estate should be a key focus of this strategy.

  • The issues with social media are named, and yet the Strategy doesn’t address the problem with any tactics. What are the “trust settings” mentioned?

    1. The embedding of ethics into technology sounds good, but if the government funding, budgets, business cases, grants, taxation and full financial management system doesn’t have “ethical” measures or requirements, let alone Wellbeing or human measures of success, then “cheapest” will continue to be considered proxy for “value for money”. Where are the digital rules to be able to get consistency of implementation and monitoring for how rules are being applied for adverse patterns, etc? Rather than seeking social licence, why not build a social contract, and build more trustworthy systems that protect privacy and dignity while also providing better services, through techniques such as verifiable claims, confidentialised computing, and user consent driven federated approaches to data, including integration with self-sovereign data sources from community-led data initiatives.

    2. Where is the strategy, guidance and approach for full stack security for NZ? How is national connectivity assured and monitored? Where is the all of system monitoring and patterns analysis? How are service analytics being used as a first line of defence?

    3. What “work is underway” across government to help people understand what can and can’t be trusted? This seems key but no details are present.

    4. Customer centric services would be great but digital government is more than digital services. What is the strategy and investment approach for digital public infrastructure, how is policy being made more agile and real time, how is government monitoring itself for human measures of success for all policies and services, where are the digital regulations and digital legislation, and where are the reusable government systems or service components to make it easy for everyone else to build upon government as a platform?

Why the contribution is important

Trust is not just about economics, and it is certainly not just "the confidence to sell stuff overseas". Trust requires trustworthy systems, policies, services, infrastructure, etc. In short, trust and truth needed to make successful policy and operate services effectively. Yet this paper doesn't get into actual trust at all.

Public sectors globally are struggling to shift from simply seeking permission (or social licence), to actually operating in a more trustworthy way, sustained consent environment. This important work to transform the public sector to operate in a more trustworthy way would result in open, engaged, auditable and fair government for the digital age, and a genuine increase in public trust of public institutions. This would position government capabilities as trusted and adaptive foundations of New Zealand’s future.

Governments and public sectors the world over are facing an impending trust and confidence crisis, and must carefully and collaboratively engage on the question of what structures, processes, oversight and forms of transparency and public scrutiny would be considered trustworthy by the public today. Otherwise, public institutions will lose trust, as will the democratic outcomes, social and economic services, policies and laws that they uphold.

A secondary problem is the growing reach and sophistication of fake news and deep fake technologies, in a context of declining trust in information institutions (such as news media, science, academia and public sectors). People tend to believe what they see and are grappling with the way computers can convey misleading information. Deep fake technology can automate the creation of believable videos of anyone saying anything - no matter how offensive or outrageous. We are about to enter a very dark age where individuals, governments and communities are increasingly and proactively “gamed” or “played” en masse for profit, crime, sabotage or even just for fun. Beyond the authenticity of information, facts, fiction and fakes coexist online, and citizens are increasingly struggling to navigate truth. On one hand, one person’s truth is another’s lie, but there are possibly some better ways to help support citizens and communities to navigate truth in the 21st century, and to help populate the public domain with robust and trustworthy data and facts, where and when they exist. 

The issues of truth and trust are integral to the relationship between government and citizens, and as seen from developments in other democracies, and the threats from digital deep fakes, social media misinformation campaigns and similar technologies has become a realised and growing danger. In the past we have relied upon independent media institutions and broadcasting controls to identify and mitigate these risks but with the disruption and bypassing of these channels through self-reinforcing social media echo chambers online, combined with exponential growth in misinformation, it is clear that the implications for future elections, public messaging, public policy and social cohesion are potentially dire. The question for government is what role, if any, should the public sector or the judiciary play in trying to support citizens to navigate these treacherous waters? 

It is critical to start this work as soon as possible, so that New Zealand is in a position to have a well supported general public (or at least means to support the general public) prior to the next election, which will likely be rife with deep fakes that will create chaos for public dialogue, civility and perceived electoral integrity. Such misinformation also creates profound security threats, and whilst our intelligence agencies have traditionally provided a degree of protection against such threats, the highly permeable, borderless and individual worlds created by social media suggest that partnership with more community based methods will be required to ensure the sector can continue to meet the challenge of higher order threats to New Zealand's security.

As we enter the age of Artificial Intelligence, public sectors should also be planning what an augmented public sector looks like, one that keeps values, trust and accountability at the heart of what we do, whilst using machines to support better responsiveness, modelling, service delivery and to maintain diligent and proactive protection of the people and communities we serve. The great but often misunderstood opportunity of AI is to better humanise government services. As it stands the incremental and iterative implementations of most AI projects is more likely to deliver a more inhuman and mechanised public services. Without strong ethical service frameworks that are measured in accordance to the Wellness Framework, New Zealand risks missing the opportunity to design a modern public service that gets the best of humans and machines working together for the best public outcomes.

by piaandrews on October 26, 2021 at 11:09AM

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