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What are the Privacy Concerns in Integrating Big Data in the e-Oman Initiative?

Atheer – Stuti Saxena.

Deployment of Big Data in e-governments has assumed critical importance across the globe. With rapid technological breakthroughs, Big Data analytics has become quite popular over a period of time.

Big data is a collection of vast data sets which are very diverse in their nature and scope and they require
sophisticated data processing tools and techniques. Big data is defined in terms of V’s, such as volume (size of data), velocity (speed of accessibility and processing of the data), variety (diversity of data), value (utility of data), veracity (credibility of data), variability (heterogeneity and inconstancy of data) and visualisation (the illustrative character of data). On the one hand, governments are spearheading their e-government initiatives to institutionalise a culture of openness and transparency in administration and on the other hand, administrative innovations are being undertaken to ensure that citizens perceive efficiency and effectiveness in administration. Therefore, public services are being provided via the internet, so that citizens may avail them through a single window.

In this vein, Oman launched its e-Oman initiative and rolled-out its OGD policy, wherein government departments were encouraged to provide free access to datasets via the dedicated online portal (www.oman.om) which is managed by the Information Technology Authority (ITA).

In this article, it is argued that Big Data technologies may be harnessed to analyse the data exchanged via e-Oman and this would assist in predictive analytics and nowcasting. Furthermore, the article also lays down the privacy concerns in tapping Big Data technologies for analysing datasets available via e-Oman.

The e-Oman Initiative refers to the provision of a diverse set of public services which may be availed through the common gateway (www.oman.om). The basic purpose behind the launch of e-Oman is to ensure greater economy, efficiency and effectiveness in provision of public services. There is emphasis upon “e-Inclusion” which ensures that public services be easily availed by physically challenged individuals. e-Oman is directed to target four groups: government, citizens, businesses and visitors. Presently, government services may be availed by using the forms available for different requirements. These forms are provided under the aegis of different ministries and departments and are available either in Arabic, English or both. They need to be downloaded, filled-in and then sent across to the relevant public authority, either via email or manually. Certain public services may be availed online, such as paying or checking a telephone bill, checking a traffic fine inquiry, availing a student e-service, availing lien against real property, applying for owning a plot of land and applying for survey drawings. For businesses, online services are restricted to inquiring about work permits and labour cards. Therefore, as the users exchange information to avail different public services via the e-Oman portal, a great deal of data is generated and this Big Data may be subjected to rigorous statistical analysis for drawing inferences and making predictions. This would be a great support in nowcasting as well, wherein real-time predictions may be made and administrative efficiency may be enhanced too.

However, there are privacy concerns related to linking Big Data technologies with e-Oman. For instance, citizens may be wary of cyber crimes wherein their personal data might be at risk. Exchanging personal data over the internet may result in fraudulent activities and users might be duped on several counts. Therefore, there are concerns regarding personal privacy protection at the data collection, storage and analysis stages. Even if the information is anonymised, there are chances of de-anonymisation or re-identification when a multitude of databases are aggregated and there are chances that the data storehouses may be illegally accessed, either by outsiders or corrupted insiders, or there are chances of the data being left carelessly exposed.

Therefore, it is important that while considering the integration of Big Data technologies in e-Oman, the privacy of users should be respected. ITA must ensure that it possesses the wherewithal to manage information security and handle crises linked with information leakage. Implicitly, a robust R&D infrastructure is required to ensure that a larger number of individuals may access and avail the public services under the aegis of this portal. As Oman pushes forth to ingratiate itself in the Fourth Industrial Revolution resting upon Information and Communication Technology, harnessing Big Data technologies by the Omani government assumes critical significance and in order to realise the aims of efficiency, effectiveness and transparency, the government should arm itself with robust defense mechanisms to secure citizen trust and collaboration.

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Twitter ID: StutiSaxenaOGD

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