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As public authorities around Europe change from traditional to online services and governance models to embrace eGovernment, is it possible to achieve greater efficiency without compromising privacy? To the sound of calls for greater transparency to increase trust in online services, the VisiOn project set out to answer the question, and has good news for citizens and governments alike.
To date, the primary focus of eGovernment has been on the benefits gained from freeing up resources and increasing effectiveness within and among government agencies. Citizens’ access to and control over their personal data have been lower on the priority list, the rationale being that there is a trade-off between effectiveness of services and protection of privacy.
“The main goal of VisiOn was to act as a bridge and reinforce the breached trust of citizens towards public administration,” stresses Loredana Mancini, project coordinator from Business-e in Rome, Italy.
“By providing citizens with the means to generate and monitor a personal privacy level agreement (PLA), it is anticipated that trust in online services will be increased and the number of users that are reluctant to use such services will decrease,” she explains.
The concept of a PLA was initially intended as a standardised way for cloud providers to describe their data protection practices. It was, therefore, limited to privacy aspects of cloud provision and did not provide support for users’ specifications or protection of privacy at risk.
“The VisiOn Privacy Platform (VPP) provides user-friendly tools for citizens so they can always be in control and stay informed of how their personal data is used,” adds José Ruiz, project technical manager from Atos in Madrid, Spain.
Visual privacy management
The VPP guides users as they specify their personal privacy needs and check their preferences for potential discrepancies with the needs of public authorities offering the online services. In doing so, users gain valuable insights into the value and potential ‘monetisation’ of their digital personal data from the point of view of authorities.
But VPP is not just about citizens. It also supports public authorities in designing online services that take privacy into account. Citizens’ input can be considered throughout the development process, starting with the design, development and refinement, and continuing until deployment.
The project’s privacy management platform offers authorities a clear understanding of citizens’ expectations and privacy levels that must be complied with. Importantly, all those involved – citizens and public authorities – can benefit from enhanced transparency and trust in transactions.
“VPP is currently being tested and validated under lifelike conditions at an Italian ministry, a Greek government public authority and healthcare institutions in Italy and Spain,” says Mancini.
Most of the use cases are being explored using simulated data for the f tests carried out in close interaction with end-users. Part of the pilot testing in DAEM, specifically in the second cycle, will involve real personal data for participants, as well as simulated ones.
Measures to protect the real personal data have been taken in consultation with the Hellenic Data Protection Authority. The use of real personal data will help adapt different components to real-life conditions, boosting potential for the commercial exploitation of the VISION technology.
More options, greater access
“VPP represents an important step towards the deployment of tools that effectively identify and analyse privacy threats in data controllers’ IT systems,” says Mancini with confidence. “At the same time, it offers users the option to declare their privacy preferences and monitor their fulfillment in real time.”
Further development of VPP includes support to the EU General Data Protection Regulation and a mobile application. Users could use the VisiOn application to define and check their privacy preferences, have access to statistics on the use of their data from anywhere and receive notifications.
Having achieved its objective of demonstrating that it is possible to develop digital technology in such a way that it is both effective and protective of privacy, the project team now hopes to see the technology applied. We are one step away from citizens being able to have total control over their data.
- Project acronym: VisiOn
- Participants: Italy (Coordinator) Spain, Greece, UK, Bulgaria, Germany
- Project N°: 653642
- Total costs: € 3 161 000
- EU contribution: € 2 748 912
- Duration: July 2015 to June 2017