Why the Public Is Scared of the Public Sector

Roger Clarke
Australian National University
and Chair of the Economic, Legal and Social Implications Committee
of the Australian Computer Society
and National Capital Convenor, Australian Privacy Foundation

There is mutual incomprehension between the public and executives and officers in the public sector. It is up to the public sector public relations apparatus to educate the public about the role, the professionalism and the commitment of agencies and their staff. The majority of the public are not in a position to communicate their points of view. This paper is a privacy advocate's explanation as to why the public distrusts, fears and in some cases loathes the public sector.

Background is provided to information privacy, and to the related matters of dataveillance of the digital persona and identification of the individual. Key aspects of the nature of contemporary government organisation and operation are identified. A series of public sector sins is then catalogued, and examples given. Recent trends in data-intensity and privacy-invasiveness are projected into scenarios which look black for individual freedoms and progressively darker for the manageability of society. The paper concludes with proposals as to what must be done if the privacy insensitivity is to be overcome and a balance achieved.

There is insufficient understanding among public servants of the reasons for the public being so suspicious of government agencies. This paper explains, from the perspective of the privacy advocate, what those reasons are.

Draft of 21 February 1993

© Australian National University, 1993


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