Data Protection - can the public sector maintain citizens' trust?

Julia Esgate Christmas

Data Protection has been a hot topic globally for many years, particularly since the introduction of GDPR in Europe in May 2018. The GDPR agreement meant that companies across Europe had to follow stricter rules for holding personal data, how it is processed and who it is shared with. Post Brexit, the GDPR agreement for the EU transformed into GDPRUK, following incredibly similar rules to the already pre-established agreement.

Within the government and wider public sector data is becoming an increasingly popular conversation topic, with citizens and company bodies being more aware of how their data is used and viewing results from collected data by the government to assist them in their day-to-day lives.

data protection

Data Saves Lives – what’s the plan?

Over the course of the last few years, particularly during the covid-19 pandemic, we’ve seen how important health data has become to both government bodies and to citizens. This data powered vital research that helped us discover new treatments that saved lives in communities across the world. The UK Government wants to build on the momentum created to push towards digital transformation.

The NHS is one of the most trusted organisations nationally, and the majority of citizens in the UK understand that their health data is needed throughout the NHS systems to ensure that the best care can be provided to them. However, as the Data Saves Lives agreement progresses, the NHS must ensure that they are using patients’ data ethically to benefit them, and the healthcare professionals. There is concern from citizens that their data will be shared for these unethical reasons, particularly when there have been data breaches from private healthcare companies in the not-so-distant past. However, the Data Saves Lives strategy attempts to reassure these concerned citizens that ‘the public’s data belongs to them so it’s important it is safely and securely only used in ways that benefit everyone using the health system. We do not sell health and care data for the benefit of private companies'.

A big focus within the Data Saves Lives strategy is on supporting innovators – who will help to shape, develop and deliver solutions aiding both healthcare professionals and patients alike. These innovators, however, will have to follow the new strategy – to provide a clear set of standards for those creating or deploying new data-driven technology.

With almost 2 million people now using the NHS app - In February 2021 there were more than 3 million logins to the App, compared with 570,000 in February 2020 - and the high usage of the Coronavirus data dashboards – a peak of 19 million views during the third lockdown, the public are beginning to understand the crucial need for their data being shared to benefit the UK.

Ultimately the Data Saves Lives strategy is planning to digitalise the NHS in order to make healthcare easier, safer and simpler for patients and experts. Watch this space…

Whose responsibility is it to monitor their data?

With citizens becoming more aware of their data being collected and used, the question that often falls upon us is who do we place responsibility on for managing their data – the government or citizens themselves?

A question often addressed on the topic of data protection and responsibility is the importance of digital accessibility. Whether digital accessibility comes under the umbrella of a lack of internet access or being unable to use the website provided due to visual impairment etc. The UK government have taken a stance on digital accessibility over the past few years, having published their guidance on understanding accessibility requirements for public sector bodies to begin to ensure everyone can access government and public sector websites with ease. Although the majority of public sector sites have followed the digital accessibility requirements, with constantly evolving technology, this will need to be continually monitored.

Ultimately, the UK government needs to strike a careful balance between protecting data and preserving citizen trust. The public sector has a responsibility to be agile, secure and transparent, while at the same time open, accountable and accessible. It's vital that citizens are able to access information about how their data is being used in order for them to exercise their rights.

To ensure that the public continues to have faith in their government’s ability to protect them from harm, there needs to be an open mindset on all sides: citizens should be able to access their own personal data at any time; businesses should feel confident about sharing information with one another when necessary; and governments must be held responsible for protecting both private citizens and corporate entities from cyber threats without hindering innovation in either field (or indeed at all). Together both citizens and the government share a responsibility to be aware of their data, and how this is used to benefit both parties.

If you’re interested in learning more about data protection and public trust within the public sector, then join us at DigiGov Expo 2024. Our expert panel of speakers will be discussing these topics and much more, and it’s free to attend for the public sector. Find out more.