Column – The Netherlands is one of the leading countries in the world in the field of digitization, at least when it comes to technology. Think of companies such as ASML, ASMI, NXP, Booking.com and Adyan. We are also leading in areas such as fintech and system security. How can it then happen that our government lags behind so much and does not see, understand and have no control over the influence of digitization on society? Much of what goes wrong – and a lot goes wrong – can be traced directly or indirectly to this misunderstanding of that influence.
Digitization in the coalition agreement
A new coalition agreement is currently being worked on. But it is already clear that the many aspects of digitization are hardly a theme.
There should be a thin coalition agreement this time. An agreement in outline, according to the trainers. My gut says that unfortunately this remains a pious wish. A step in the direction of how things should go in the future, but whether mutual trust is big enough for that? Political parties are apparently insufficiently capable of stepping over their own shadow.
What unfortunately does seem to be happening is that it is getting thinner than it should anyway due to the lack of a vision of the digitization. As a result, I am already pretty sure that there is a major gap in the agreement.
Digitization affects all sides of society
The influence of digitization on our society is already and will be many times greater than most citizens and certainly the government realize. There are quite a few problem areas in the Netherlands that require hard work. But almost all of these themes have in common that they are either supportive or dominant to digitization. The consequences of this for society receive little attention from the government. Globally, you can think of digital aspects around themes such as:
- Education: computers collect too much unnecessary data, incompatible systems, lack of knowledge among teachers.
- Climate: the availability of a lot of data worldwide undermines short-sighted government arguments.
- Environment: measuring pollution, calculating the consequences of measures.
- Energy transition: unbalanced and contradictory measures, no integral calculations.
- Covid-19: variety of websites, fragmentation of systems, malfunctions, making appointments.
- Housing market: construction schedules, available space, regulations, communication with the environment, purchase/sale procedures.
- Cybercrime: legislation is inadequate, too little knowledge and capacity of the police, too little enforcement, use of artificial intelligence and image recognition.
- Privacy: misuse of data, better security, wrong legislation, insufficient enforcement.
- Cyber terror: attention to security of business processes, other legislation, reports, international approach, requirements for systems.
- Healthcare: variety of incompatible systems, privacy thresholds, remote care, more health data.
- Defence: deployment of drones, gathering intelligence online, approach to cyber terrorism.
- Payment systems: more than 3 million citizens who have difficulties with online, support centers, a different role for cash money, checking cyber currencies, tackling anonymity, fraud, hacking.
- Infrastructure: (free) access to internet/wifi for everyone and everywhere, strategic role of government.
- Mobility: digitization of cars, dashcams, data from cars, behavioral control, self-driving vehicles, liability, e-cars (modularity).
- Social media: missing rules, anonymity, subversive.
- News provision: distinguishing between truth and falsehood, manipulation, deep fakes.
This list is far from exhaustive, but is primarily intended to provide some insight into how far digitization affects all sides of society.
The sad thing is that the political parties did not pay attention to digitization in their election manifestos. And therefore not at all for its influence on society. The consequence is also that there is no serious knowledge and experience in this area available in the government and in the House of Representatives. And that while digitization will significantly influence and determine our society in the coming years.
Criminals can, for example, enjoy themselves almost undisturbed with the help of digital means, because there is still a long way to talk about serious counter-force and adapted legislation. Companies and organizations are increasingly becoming victims of cyber attacks, resulting in enormous social and financial damage. Individuals can freely poison social media coverage and thereby also undermine our democracy. Due to a wrong and outdated approach to privacy, personal data can be collected on a large scale and used for the wrong purposes. Due to the careless behavior of (large) companies and a lack of enforcement, consumers too easily become victims of fraud and theft. And these are just a few areas of concern.
The attention that is present is mainly focused on the economic consequences for companies and our country. But a much bigger problem is what digitization does to our society. Almost no attention is paid to this.
Ministry of Digital Affairs
A serious coalition agreement, even a thin one, should at least contain a text that makes it clear that the government takes digitization seriously. It could read:
In the coming years, a great deal of attention will be paid to dealing appropriately with digitization and controlling its influence on society. To this end, it is crucial that a Ministry of Digital Affairs is established that will deal with all aspects of digitization, including appropriate legislation, and also receive the necessary financial resources for this.
A minister will then be instructed to give substance to this. Until this happens, our society will continue to be undermined by cybercrime, social derailments and the misuse of data.
In order to use digitization in a helpful way for society, the realization of something like a Civic Platform is required (see my book 2024 – The Netherlands 40 years after George Orwell’s 1984, affiliate). This is a protected and extra secured area within the internet. There, citizens can safely use essential online services, such as those provided at least by the government, banks, energy companies, insurance and the like. Here, issues such as privacy and anonymity are also given a different role, but appropriate to the digital world. This platform will be managed by the new Ministry of Digital Affairs.
Acting politically is sometimes very similar to marketing.
Attention to effect on society
Due to recent cyber attacks on companies, especially with ransomware, the digital problem is gradually getting some attention. For the time being, little by little in the House of Representatives, but the cabinet is still lagging behind. Lack of knowledge and experience about its influence on society plays a crucial role. The attention that is present is mainly focused on the economic consequences for companies and our country. But a much bigger problem is what digitization does to our society. Almost no attention is paid to this.
The only viable option is a ministry with experts, people who not only understand the techniques, but also their impact on society.
The crucial measuring point for whether digitization is taken seriously is therefore the rapid establishment of a Ministry of Digital Affairs. As long as this does not happen, mopping with the tap will remain open, and taking ad hoc measures again and again afterwards.
Politics is like marketing
Acting politically is sometimes very similar to marketing: understanding what the supporters want or need, have empathy and communicate well. It also means serving the target audience. But that is often too much to ask for politicians, then ego takes precedence over substance.
The political climate in our country is characterized by a large dose of public distrust of the government, but also by a lack of trust between politicians and political parties. This forms a poor basis for an effective policy. For people with expertise, the risk of loss of a role within the current system is too great. So the question remains whether the digital subversion will continue. Or will a coalition agreement still be reached that tries to turn the ship around, before it is turned ashore?
Consequences for citizens and businesses
For years, politicians have had no idea what digitization means, in which areas it undermines society and how citizens use or abuse the possibilities. It has not only to do with too little attention, but also with the lack of knowledge. Perhaps a combination of missing both cause and effect of what goes wrong with certain themes. Unfortunately, the approach of the next coalition agreement also lacks any serious attention to digitization. In this way, the next opportunity is likely to be lost for a longer period of time, with all the consequences that this entails. Consequences, by the way, that will affect all Dutch citizens and companies.
Source: Frankwatching by www.frankwatching.com.
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