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According to Ajith Perera – the recently appointed Minister of Digital Infrastructure and Information Technology, there are “ambitious” plans to bring the Government together under an e-Government. As per the minister, the first step towards this would be to create a population registry of all Sri Lankan citizens.

Dubbed the “Mother of all databases”, this would contain all the information about the population of Sri Lanka. The database would be available for all Government ministries to share data.

Creating a safer, more secure Sri Lanka

Another one of the Minister’s points was to take stronger action against cyber threats and the protection of private data. According to the minister, “Sri Lanka, under previous administrations, has taken many steps already”. But as technology keeps evolving, we have to keep up with it as well. As such, there are some new legislations that are being worked on.

The minister shared that draft copies of the proposed Data Protection Act and Cyber Security Act are ready. He further added that these acts would be shared with the relevant shareholders in order to get their feedback.

What’s the difference between the two?

The Cyber Security Act is all about protecting you and your organization from malware and unwanted programs. For example, if a hacker inserts a virus into your network, you can use the Cyber security act to take legal action against them.

The Data Protection Act, however is all about protecting your data. For example, if someone steals your private information and is holding it ransom, or someone is requesting to access your private data, this act would protect you and give access to the data only after you have authorized it.

Once everything is agreed upon, the acts would be passed in Parliament. While these claims seem bold, the bolder claim is that all this is slated to be done within three months. A positive step, no doubt but also quite ambitious.

A lookback at Sri Lanka’s Digital Projects

This is not the first time we’re hearing about the e-Government. In case you’re lost, we had a look at the e-Government initiative back in 2018. When announced, it looked like it would revolutionize how the Government of Sri Lanka would share information.

Sadly, the initiative had a large number of flaws, wasn’t as digital as promised, and generally looked like something that was developed in a haphazard manner. Compared to e-Governance projects seen in countries such as Estonia, Australia and the US, the e-Government project of Sri Lanka left a definite bad taste in the mouth.

According to the minister, “the e-Government would bring the entire Government under one umbrella, virtually sharing data among themselves”. He goes on to share that this initiative will end the use of isolated information by different Government bodies.

So theoretically, if all goes well, all Government systems will have shared resources. The minister further added that at departmental level, multiple programs would be carried out to digitally reform government processes.

Can all this actually happen on time?

Well, that’s a question only time would tell. We had first-hand experience with Digital Health project and were pleasantly impressed by it. The system did have a few flaws, but overall, it was efficient.

On the other hand, we also saw a number of projects such as the Free WiFi, and even Google Loon Fiasco spiral out of control with controversies, scandals, and overall confusion. What started off as ambitious projects either fell apart or were simply rebadged as mere tests to analyze population density.

All of these had one thing in common: they required data. This is where the Open Data initiative comes into play.

Data that is open to all, but still outdated

According to the Minister, the population registry would be open to all Government departments to share data. Think of it as open data. Speaking of open data, remember how we wrote that the open data from the Sri Lankan Government is outdated? Well, it still is. You’d think with the Government opting for an e-Government, the open datasets would be updated. Well, apparently not.

A key part of data is making sure that the data is safe. Let’s take a look at the “mother of all databases”, for example. This would essentially have the detailed records of approximately 21 Million Sri Lankans in it.

Data Security Is Vital for a safer tomorrow

While these details can be used to measure population density according to towns and provinces, it can also be used to obtain private information of citizens. For example, if someone gained illegal access to the database, they would essentially be able to control the data and use it for nefarious purposes.

This of course would be a lot safer with the newly proposed data protection and cyber security acts. If worded properly, these would ensure that the data of citizens in Sri Lanka is safe and secure. In the event of a data breach, citizens could also possibly hold the Government accountable for the breach.

The Future of the e-Government

Going back to the data protection and cybersecurity acts, as we said, 3 months is quite an ambitious goal. We took a look at the 2019 Sri Lankan budget and our concerns for it as well. Stated in it was that Rs. 800 million has been allocated to digitize government services.

As my colleague Mazin shares, ideas are cheap. It’s the execution that matters. The same holds true for both the e-Government and the proposed data protection acts as well.

Creating a population registry is by no means an easy task. Neither is implementing a Cybersecurity and Data Protection Act. But at least the Government is taking strides to address the elephant in the room and work on it. Hopefully, they can keep to their word and do it in time.


Autor(en)/Author(s): Mahesh De Andrado

Quelle/Source: ReadMe Sri Lanka, 11.03.2019

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