The world in the 21st century is evolving fast as the 5th industrial revolution gears up. The humans and machines coexist, cooperating at different levels with a rise of machine learning and machine consciousness.
However, the latest sector of the economy to catch up with the prevalent technology has been the governments. In Pakistan for example, for the very first time yesterday, a paperless cabinet meeting was held, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan himself.
The Prime minister’s office on Tuesday went to Twitter to post a video of the meeting, calling it a giant step taken towards digital automation of Cabinet procedures.
In a first, an entirely paperless Cabinet Meeting was held in Islamabad with Prime Minister @ImranKhanPTI in chair.
The members used digital tablets to mark commencement of digital automation of Cabinet Procedures pic.twitter.com/oo95CMrdq2
— Prime Minister's Office (@PakPMO) May 25, 2021
According to media reports, the National Information Technology Board (NITB) played a lead role in the process, along with the support provided by the cabinet secretary Ahmed Nawaz Sukhera.
In the meeting, for the first time ever in Pakistan’s history, the cabinet meeting was entirely “paperless”. All the members were given a tablet.
The cabinet discussed the overall political and economic situation of the country besides the COVID-19 situation.
CEO National IT Board Shabahat Ali Shah went to Twitter to say that it is a giant step towards digital automation of Cabinet procedures.
First time in the history of Pakistan, PM @ImranKhanPTI conducted Cabinet Meeting today completely paperless on Digital Tablets.
A giant step taken today towards digital automation of Cabinet Procedures.
— Shabahat Ali Shah (@ShabahatAShah) May 25, 2021
While it may seem like something that is fashionable by many, the step actually has some positive impact on streamlining the government’s day-to-day proceedings.
Here are some advantages by a famous digital governance blog:
The first and foremost thing that comes with this step is the efficiency, which we all know Pakistan’s public sector could use. The documents stored in a system, or a cloud makes it easier to access. It would increase inter-departmental connectivity and documentation.
The second most important thing is automation. Digitalization helps track project status, automatically notify the correct people once a milestone is reached, and create reminders, so tasks don’t get bottlenecked with certain employees and departments.
Some would say it is the most important reason for any government to go digital, the reason being that it allows the government to cut costs of having to manually input data and file management cost is saved. Additionally, it allows cost-cutting in things like mailing the documents inter-department or to and from citizens.
Digitization makes data accessible to the people. For Example, property-specific data can be retrieved in real-time from your government’s GIS platform, ensuring that every department has access to the most current data.
It increases transparency for government processes as concerned people can be automatically notified as a task is completed.
However, there are disadvantages too.
The biggest disadvantage of linking government to the digital world is the risk of loss/leak of data. The government is often dealing with high-risk secret data, which, if leaked can damage the integrity of the government and sometimes even the sovereignty, eg, recent allegations of election hacking between two countries.
In fact, under the aforementioned tweet of the NIT board’s CEO, an information security researcher, published author on Cybersecurity Rafay Baloch raised similar concerns.
He said, “In Federal Cabinet meetings, where imp National-sec related decisions are taken, this is the last place where you would to any form of digital devices let alone tablets as they can easily turn into bugging devices. By doing so, we are exposing ourselves to new kinds of risks.”
He then added, “ There are several pertinent questions that should be raised here:
- Were tablets hardened from a security standpoint, if so which standard was followed to accomplish the same?
- How many external security companies have validated their security posture?
- Are these devices connected to the network such as Wifi or GSM etc?
- Were these tablets indigenously developed from scratch if procured using an external party, was software and hardware tested for any potential backdoors?
In Federal Cabinet meetings, where imp National-sec related decisions are taken, this is the last place where you would to any form of digital devices let alone tablets as they can easily turn into bugging devices. By doing so, we are exposing ourselves to new kinds of risks. 1/3
— Rafay Baloch (@rafaybaloch) May 25, 2021
Secondly, A large number of people in Pakistan are tech-illiterate and do not know how to operate computers and smartphones. Being digitally governed is very difficult for them to access and understand. Similarly, if government departments are not aptly trained for the digital world, it can lead to inefficient governance as well.