The Swiss mistrust e-government services because of data protection and data security concerns

The majority of Swiss people would like more digital services from the administration. However, there are reservations and obstacles preventing broader adaptation of e-government services: The majority of citizens who do not support new digital services have particular concerns about data protection and cyber security. Most of the respondents are also unwilling to pay for these services. Could “nudging” techniques gently encourage citizens to accept and use e-government services more widely?

Although the federal government, cantons and communes are trying to offer citizens more and more effective services on administrative matters, the Swiss population still has a number of reservations about using e-government services.

Swiss people have concerns about data protection and cyber security

Most Swiss citizens who are not in favour of new digital services mainly have concerns about data protection and cyber security. Insufficient data security is one of the main obstacles keeping Swiss people from making greater use of e-government services. Concerns regarding cyber security are holding back the introduction and use of digital government services.

Data protection concerns exist mainly around digital services for taxes, the digital signature and the ordering of passports or IDs. While 23% of respondents had data protection concerns with regard to contactless payment options for parking fines, 25% expressed concerns about a lack of data security. In the case of purchasing electronic motorway vignettes, these figures were 22% and 24% respectively. When it comes to the option of filing complaints with the police digitally, 28% of Swiss citizens had reservations about data protection while a similar number mistrust this option due to insufficient data security. Around two thirds of citizens surveyed expressed these concerns in connection with e-voting and ordering passports and ID documents.

Particular reservations about taxes and signatures

The question of data protection and data security appears to be particularly acute for Swiss people in areas such as tax, legally binding electronic signatures and exchanging data and information with the authorities by entirely electronic means. Here, most citizens distrust (possible) e-services provided by the authorities: a third of respondents see problems with data protection and data security (38% and 33% respectively) in connection with recording and transferring tax-relevant data electronically. Signing documents with a legally binding digital signature is seen by 36% of Swiss people as problematic due to data protection concerns and by as many as 38% due to insufficient data security. Similarly high numbers of respondents have concerns about the service that involves sharing data and information with the administrations by entirely electronic means. Here, roughly a third of the population have reservations relating to data protection and to doubts regarding data security (36% and 33% respectively).

In general, the vast majority of respondents are not willing to pay for digital services such as digital signatures or electronic data exchange; the figure ranges between 70% and 80% depending on the service. The sole exception here is the option of ordering a passport or ID online without having to go to the authorities in person, where a small majority of the population indicate that they would be willing to pay.

Citizen centricity: Focusing on the needs and concerns of citizens

How it is possible to reduce the barriers for first-time use? In order to assuage existing concerns, it is necessary to engage with citizens in the areas where their concerns and the resulting obstacles to use are greatest. Here, the focus must be placed squarely on security aspects such as data protection and cyber security. Cyber security should not be seen as a purely technical IT problem. Rather, the aim should be to incorporate human aspects such as emotions, trust and a subjective sense of security. Training and sensitizing administrative employees to security risks and compliance with (data protection) laws are also essential.

Above all, however, potential users of these digital services, individual citizens and their needs and concerns, should be at the centre of planning all e-government services – Citizen first. By providing information and education about risks and security measures, the government and administration should attempt to allay these concerns, thereby keeping the barriers to use low. This can be done by involving users early on in the development of digital e-government services: What do people want, which services do they consider useful? Which services make it easier for Swiss people to communicate with the administration?

Reservations regarding e-services are reduced through positive experience

Only when these needs and wishes are taken into account can suitable, citizen-centric solutions emerge that people accept and use. Their needs are clear: simple language and structure for websites, appealing design and clear added value compared with analogue communication. The survey findings suggest that positive experiences when using the authorities’ digital services for the first time help to reduce obstacles. Citizens who have received at least one digital service from the authorities tend to view these as more progressive compared to those who have never used a digital service before. In addition, citizens tend to be more in favour of digital services when they have already used them (73%) than when they have not (59%). The same applies for their willingness to pay: people are more willing to pay money for digital services if they have already had experience using them (68% compared with 53%). In other words, people who have already used e-government services have a more positive attitude towards them.

If feedback from citizens is included in the improvement process, this leads to a higher level of trust between citizens and the authorities. If citizens are enthusiastic about the services, they will see the authorities as competent, forward-looking partners – thus reducing the distance between the government and citizens.

Gentle “nudging” can persuade citizens to use e-government services

All these aspects for increasing the acceptance of services are combined in what is known as ‘nudging’, which authorities around the world use to gently nudge their citizens. Nudging aims to steer the behaviour of citizens in certain directions through subtle hints. In Great Britain, for example, this strategy has reduced secondary school drop-outs by 36% after schools sent students SMS ‘welcome-back’ text messages explaining where and when to expect them. Similarly, payments by late taxpayers increased by five percent in a very short space of time when they stated in their reminders that the majority of their neighbours paid their taxes on time. The City of Edinburgh Council has also had good results with this kind of ‘social engineering’, having successfully increased the amount of recycled waste by 85% without having to introduce stricter laws. To do so, they simply reduced the size of rubbish bins for household waste.

Citizens should eat healthier, use less energy, dispose of waste in the appropriate bins – or, as is necessary in Switzerland, make greater use of the e-government services on offer. Citizens like to be induced to change their behaviour without the need for rigid regulations – provided that the advantages for themselves are plain to see. Or as Richard Thaler, the 2017 Nobel economics laureate who coined the term “nudging”, put it: “nudge for good.”

Nudging can help to increase the acceptance of e-government services among the population. 

Rolf Brügger, Director Business Operations

The journey to digital transformation in the Public Sector

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