Electronic Everything versus Social Responsibility
2018-11-19
By J. Tamhane

Although I agree, in principle, that “Electronic Everything" is efficient, there are important considerations that form arguments against it. Of course, it depends upon the definition of efficiency. I believe that there are more aspects than just technical efficiency.

1) Privacy
If everything is accessible at the click of a button, there are serious concerns about private information. Who has the authority to access it? What is the process for being able to get permission to see the information? Is there a track of who accessed the information? What are the penalties for incorrect access?

2) Security against hacks
Even if the information is kept safe from unnecessary internal access, we cannot ignore the issue of external hacks. Having all information readily available amplifies the negative effects of hacking. If it is readily available to you, it is also readily available to a hacker.

3) Ease of identity theft
If all information is kept together, identity theft becomes incredibly easy. Having a single identity number makes it even worse. Yes, it connects everything that a person does. But it also means that there is very little information that is needed to steal an identity.

4) Reduction in autonomy for councils
When we talk about the levels within bureaucracy, we usually refer to the inefficiencies of having too many steps and departments. However, it is this inefficiency that allows the councils to maintain a level of autonomy. This is necessary to keep some level of control at the society level.

5) Concentration of power at the top level
Carrying on from the previous point, if everything were electronic and central, then the information and the access to it would also be concentrated at the central authorities. It might be efficient to do so, but would it really be socially responsible to have a concentration of power at the top?

6) Loss of jobs
There will be loss of jobs, which is socially irresponsible. Even if there are net zero job losses on aggregate, some industries and job functions would disappear and those who are not able to be skilled up in the new areas would find it difficult to maintain their livelihoods. And these are the ones the most in need of job security.

7) Complacency
More and more use of electronic information makes us dependent upon it. Even worse is the situation where we get complacent and expect that things just work. This prevents people from having a backup process in case something doesn’t. What would you do if the central system is inaccessible for an hour? What if it is out for a day? Would we even last 10 minutes without it?

Efficiency, and therefore financial cost, is the only factor that drives the concept of “Electronic Everything”. But the socio-economic cost should be at the forefront of these decisions. And, in a lot of cases, it actually is! Countries that maintain a distance from central storage and access of electronic information do consider the social concerns of the very people who vote for them. Democracy may be inefficient, but it will, hopefully, always win over the pure technical efficiency arguments for “Electronic Everything”.
 
 
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