myhealthrecord

What could possibly go wrong? Privacy & government databases

In the last few weeks the Federal Government has faced community backlash to another of their ‘big-data’ plans. This time the brilliant idea to create My Health Record. A central repository for all the health data any health practitioner, and the government agency, may have collected on any individual.

On the surface, the idea of providing health professionals with a central point of information on patients sounds like a good idea, for the health professional, arguably even for the patient, should they find themselves dealing with a new doctor, in emergency situations, or not able to keep track of medical treatments. But, the flaw in the plan was almost immediately obvious to anyone who had even the slightest concern about the security of a central database of such personal information. A concern not made any better by the initial intention to allow access to that information by law enforcement agencies, without a Court Order.

The ensuing media hubbub and resulting public concern about the scheme was, to all but the Minister’s office and the Health Department, entirely predictable.

In the resulting back-down, by Minister Hunt on July 31, agreeing to amend the enacting legislation to require Court Order for any access by law enforcement or government agencies, and to extend the three month opt-out period. No matter how much spin attached, it was an embarrassing admission of a failed initial communication and a lack of understanding of the public mood.

It may appear odd that millions of people are willing to volunteer personal information on social media platforms but are concerned about a health record site. However, the fundamental difference is in, at least the appearance of, choice. Even then, Facebook has encountered enormous push-back when it became clear that they were commercialising user information without users’ knowledge.

Public trust of big-government is, increasingly and around the world, at an extremely low level. For the Federal Government to foist a centralised health database on all Australians, with limited public engagement and no understanding of the likely resistance, only feeds public perception of a cavalier attitude to individual privacy. The endless litany of database breaches, from airlines, to tax offices, to banks to … well you name it, only feeds a deep-seated scepticism.  As one online security expert put it – ‘there are only two types of database, those that have been hacked and those that don’t know they’ve been hacked’.

It is no surprise that more than 10% of eligible patients have opted out of My Health Record. A number that runs into the millions and that continues to grow.

The lesson is clear. In an increasingly interconnected world, the issue of data-privacy is coming to the fore, perhaps a bit too late, but the public concern is now live. Failure to recognise that fact and to communicate effectively will result in the sort of push-back the Health Department and its Minister have endured.

The-brave-new-world

The brave new world – well, not just yet

If we listen to some of the futurists and tech pundits, very soon, we will all be sitting back in the driver’s seat and letting the autonomous car do all the work. In this brave new world, there will no road fatalities, traffic will flow smoothly and we will all arrive at our individual destinations relaxed and on time.

Like all utopian dreams the impact of the single most troublesome variant is often omitted. Humans. Humans with individual needs, desires, objectives, with their capriciousness, unpredictability, selfishness, inattentiveness and competitiveness. All of which any autonomous vehicle system will have to cope with.

Even if we were to ban all direct human control of motor vehicles (and that’s just not going to happen) humans will still share spaces with such vehicles, interact with them and come up with incalculable variations as to what they expect such vehicles to do for them. Otherwise they will not be individual vehicles at all, they will be public transport – with all the predictability yet limitation that entails.

The technology to allow vehicles to be partially, even largely, autonomous already exists. What does not is an agreed public policy and regulatory framework for the operation of such vehicles nor the closed systems within which they can operate free from the risks of human vicissitudes.

In an ideal scenario autonomous vehicles will talk to each other, operate within a network that has infrastructure also providing interactive information, plan and execute trips based on individual choice yet consistent with capacity, and prioritise user and community protection. Never mind that there can be cases where that last dual requirement is not easily reconciled.

No road fatalities, even within an autonomous system, is impossible. Yet the argument runs that the fatality cases will be so few that the larger gains justify the far lesser exceptions. But who makes that ethical judgement? Moreover, who takes responsibility when things inevitably, go spectacularly and tragically pear-shaped.

One of the luxury car companies recently issued a very brave statement saying that they would take full responsibility for any failure, causing accident, of one of their vehicles operating in autonomous mode. Quite apart from the lawyer’s picnic that can be had from the effort to define both failure and cause, any company with international exposure would soon find even a tiny percentage of incidents within their global fleet enough to drown them in claims.

The truth is that fully autonomous private motor vehicles (that is running all the time autonomously) is as much science fiction as the flying cars of the Jetsons. Yes, there will be more and more sophisticated ‘driver aids’, many of which will allow full autonomous operation in certain circumstances, under certain conditions and with certain supporting infrastructure. Yes, there may even be closed systems – such as inner city grids – where only vehicles that can be switched to autonomous mode will be allowed to enter. There may well be a day when all new cars and heavy vehicles will have such capability. However, so long as there are humans in the mix, there will remain the need for personal responsibility and ultimately, intervention and control.

The more likely outcome is a sensible combination of both improved vehicle capability and improved infrastructure allowing for opportunities to decrease road trauma whist increasing efficiency. To say nothing of better driver education and increasingly convenient public transport options.

We already have a closed system mass transport platform where the operating vehicles can perform the tasks assigned to their human controllers, without intervention. The air transport system. Yet pilots not only remain in the cockpit they also continue to carry individual responsibility for controlling their aircraft. At all times! Can’t see that changing anytime soon.

RMK+A consults widely to automotive businesses on matters of vehicle industry and transport public policy and government engagement.

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The Business – Government Speed Differential

One of the biggest hurdles for business is the slow nature of Government at any level.

For a company or corporation time is literally money. Waiting for paperwork to be processed, or promised legislation to be passed is time during which new customers can’t be engaged, production lines cannot start and delivery schedules are not able to be made.

This is because government is not as acutely affected by time as the private sector. The annual nature of funding government initiatives is part of the issue.

State and Federal Budgets are produced with great fanfare as they place the priorities of a government clearly on the table.

However, Treasury remains the government’s profit centre and department heads only need to consider income by way of an annual submission to express their ability to implement policy.

Conversely, business, while having a basic concept of what income they should expect in a financial year, does not have the same luxury. A downturn in sales, or a new competitor entering the market impacts profits and means costs need to be mitigated.

Changes in policy can also affect the bottom line as new regulation is introduced, or as in the case of Uber, a massive change to regulation occurs in response to a judicial decision.

In a clear demonstration of the speed differential, the County Court passed judgment on the legitimacy of ridesharing in May 2016, but a Government sponsored bill is yet to be introduced to the Parliament. In frustration Fiona Patten from the Sex Party has introduced a Private Member’s Bill to get the discussion moving.

Even in true crises, such as the unfortunate events in Bourke Street on Friday, 20 January, where there has been an urgent rethink on bail laws, it will be some weeks before the process of parliament allows a bill’s passage into law.

The democratic process needs to be transparent for people to have any trust that law is being created with proper scrutiny.

If a Bill is referred to a committee, momentum is slowed further, but an opportunity arises for business and other organisations to engage in the process by providing expert advice and experience.

 

RMK+A boasts an experienced team, able to provide invaluable insights and development of strategies to ensure that when your business is seeking to work with government the experience is smoothed and the outcomes are optimised.

political-storm

Disruption The new normal

How to stay on top of politics that can impact your business

In a global political environment that is veering towards the highly unpredictable, government relations and keeping track of the political players with the potential to impact your business has never been more important, or challenging.

2015 and 2016 will be remembered as years of seismic change and upheaval to the comfortable traditional political orthodoxy of the Western world. Brexit, Trump, the rise of the right in Europe, failed plebiscites or referenda in Greece, Italy and Colombia, a belligerent populist in the Philippines, the list goes on.

Here at home, a first-term Coalition Government that was expected to romp home in a double dissolution election was lucky to survive. At a State level, we are becoming accustomed to one-term governments.

Much has been, and will continue to be, written about the root causes of this disruption to the previously somewhat predictable course of politics. However, for businesses with exposure to State or Federal Government policies and regulatory actions, the key challenge is to stay both on top of and in touch with the key players on all sides of politics and what drives them.

In such volatile times, it is insufficient to be cosy with one side or another in a dominantly two party system. Equal attention needs to be paid to both major parties, and now to the minor players who are increasingly carrying critical influence. Further, if the right levers are to be used when policy or regulatory proposals present a business threat, there needs to be an understanding of the competing agenda within the parties.

For many businesses, political observation and developing relationships within the political sphere are not core functions. Given the almost frantic modern pace of political change, even some political commentators struggle to remain fully abreast of the sometimes labyrinthine allegiances, dependencies and deal-making; that is where expert advice is becoming valuable.

In the effort to garner fickle electorate support, politicians will sometimes consider actions and reactions with unintended consequences, or scant consideration of commercial impact. Careful and considered engagement may then be required to avoid outcomes that can damage particular businesses or sectors. Simple opposition to a proposal is most often not enough. Clear and well-thought through proposals need to be put forward, cognisant of the political agenda at play and of the need to find workable solutions.

RMK+Associates have spent decades developing a detailed understanding of how our system of government works and building the networks necessary to facilitate political engagement. For businesses with a need to engage with government, or even to simply understand the political drivers and administrative processes, seeking such expert counsel could help avoid significant difficulties emanating from unforeseen political action.