Here Be Dragons – Maintaining Trust in the Technologized Public Sector

Paper by Balázs Bodó and Heleen Janssen: “Emerging technologies, such as AI systems, distributed ledgers, but also private e-commerce and telecommunication platforms have permeated every aspect of our social, economic, political relations. Various bodies of the state, from education, via law enforcement to healthcare also increasingly rely on technical components to provide cheap, efficient public services, and supposedly fair, transparent, disinterested, accountable public administration. Most of these technical components are provided by private parties who designed, developed, trained, and maintain the technical components of public infrastructures.
The rapid, and often unplanned, and uncontrolled technologization of public services (as happened, for example in the rapid adoption of distance learning and teleconferencing systems during the COVID lockdowns) inseparably link the perception of the quality, trustworthiness, effectiveness of public services and the public bodies which provision them to the successes and failures of their private, technological components: if the government’s welfare fraud AI system fails, it is the confidence in the governments which is ultimately hit.

In this contribution we explore how the use of potentially untrustworthy private technological systems in the public sector may affect the trust in government. We argue that citizens’ and business’ trust in government is a valuable asset, which came under assault from many dimensions. The increasing reliance on private technical components in government is in part a response to protect this trust, but in many cases, it opens up new forms of threats and vulnerabilities, because the trustworthiness of many of these private technical systems is, at best, questionable, particularly where it is deployed in the context of public sector trust contexts. We consider a number of policy options to protect the trust in government even if some of their technological components are fundamentally untrustworthy….(More)”.