Public Service Anonymity? Get wrecked

Friday, March 10, 2017

by Nick Charney RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

Last week Kent wrote a longish piece on the evolution of public service anonymity (See: Public Service Anonymity is Dead, Long Live Public Service Anonymity), he concludes:

For those who currently have a public presence, and get benefit from it: don’t lose sight of the fact that this is not an unambiguous win for government writ large. There are risks both short and long term. The public service is built out of the collective expertise and experience of public servants - but also their relationships and biases. For better and worse.

Public service anonymity is dead, and perhaps always was. If so, it’s extra dead now.

We may be able to maintain the value - in particular, the ability of the public service to provide fearless advice - but there’s work involved. It will require a hard look at the public service contract and culture, and a legitimate effort to create and embed a new set of principles for public service that honour the professional, non-partisan role while being realistic about an unavoidably public public service. The good news is that there’s a lot of potential for better governance, if this is done well.

Anonymity is of the issues he and I (and many others) have been discussing for some time now. The (doomsday) scenario I often bring up in those conversations is one whereby I can use existing sentiment and network analysis tools, apply to them to a public servants' online presence, cross reference it with their Government Electronic Directory Service (GEDS) entry, identify their policy domain, infer their political opinions and effectively make a case that they are in some way, shape or form, partisan. Couple that with whatever could be attained via Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) provisions and you could pretty much wreak havoc on any public servant out there. Especially given that the litmus test for conflicts of interest in the public service is perceived rather than proven conflict. Couple all of that with a decimated news industry that chases click-based add revenues and there is a very real possibility that someone out there is going to completely eviscerated, most likely without cause.

Indeed as Kent points out, we are firmly in the territory of an unavoidable public public service, however, given the trend line in our conversations about as lofty as "governance" I'm not sure I agree that there's much good news to be had.

When the stakes are high enough, someone somewhere is going to -- in the language of the internet -- get wrecked.