Maintaining trust in a technologized public sector

Emerging technologies permeate and potentially disrupt a wide spectrum of our social, economic,and political relations. Various state institutions, including education, law enforcement, and healthcare, increasingly rely on technical components, such as automated decision-making systems, e-government systems, and other digital tools to provide cheap, efficient public services, and supposedly fair, transparent, disinterested, and accountable public administration. The increased interest in various blockchain-based solutions from central bank digital currencies, via tokenized educational credentials, and distributed ledger-based land registries to self-sovereign identities is the latest, still mostly unwritten chapter in a long history of standardized, objectified, automated, technocratic, and technologized public administration. The rapid, (often) unplanned, and uncontrolled technologization of public services (as happened in the hasty adoption of distance-learning and teleconferencing systems during Corona Virus Disease (COVID) lockdowns) raises complex questions about the use of novel technological components, which may or may not be ultimately adequate for the task for which they are used. The question whether we can trust the technical infrastructures the public sector uses when providing public services is a central concern in an age where trust in government is declining: If the government’s artificial intelligence system that detects welfare fraud fails, the public’s confidence in the government is ultimately hit. In this paper, we provide a critical assessment of how the use of potentially untrustworthy (private) technological systems including blockchain-based systems in the public sector may affect trust in government. We then propose several policy options to protect the trust in government even if some of their technological components prove fundamentally untrustworthy.

B. Bodo & H. Janssen, Maintaining trust in a technologized public sector’ (2022) Policy & Society 41(3).

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