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Google's Irish boss thinks government departments need to be more like Estonia

The eastern European country has been quick to embrace new technology.

THE IRISH GOVERNMENT needs to follow in Estonia’s footsteps and place technology that collects residents’ personal data at the core of every service.

That’s according to the head of Google’s Irish operations, Ronan Harris, who also said data will be the “natural resource of the next 20 years” and the skills necessary to get a job are about change drastically.

Speaking at the RDS Economic Vision 2020 seminar, Harris, who oversees an estimated 6,000 permanent, part-time and contract staff at the company, said that the expectations of consumers are changing and governments need to do their bit to shape the new digital society.

He said that one of the most progressive governments when it comes to tech adoption is Estonia and Ireland could learn a thing or two from its fellow EU-member state.

“Today in Estonia, every citizen has their national ID card that has a digital identity attached to it. And that digital identity is the same that’s recognised no matter what government department they deal with,” he said.

“They no longer have to refill out forms every time they show up at an office or ask for a new service. Even when it comes to voting, they insert their card into a secure device on their laptop and are able to vote.”

Estonia Digital ID card An Estonian state issued national ID-card Source: YouTube

Such a high-tech approach from a government to the collection and storage of people’s personal data does bring security risks. Harris said Estonia has discouraged personal data theft or misuse by putting in place very strict laws around cyber security.

“What the Estonian government has done is make sure there are laws in place that any unauthorised access to data by a government official or otherwise meets very stiff penalties.

“By looking up your neighbour’s tax returns or health records, you will immediately get taken to court and put in jail. They are very stiff penalties.”

Ireland has been the battleground in recent years in regard to data privacy laws. In 2012, Austrian student Max Schrems lodged a complaint with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner in relation to how his data was being used inappropriately, the result of which caused the Safe Harbour agreement to be ruled null and void.

Next generation

Harris added that the Irish government should be active in the shaping of EU policy for the digital single market.

“For Ireland, we have to make a decision whether we want to be a nice and reasonably successful, but peripheral, island nation in Europe, or is there something more we could aspire to? Do we want to be a place where data flows through, or could there be more?

“One of the things we still have to do is break down some of the barriers. Ireland needs to be a strong proponent of the digital single market and make sure any business big or small can quickly access the 500 million (living in Europe), making sure that the logistical, payment support and international trade barriers are broken down.”

16/6/2016. GOOGLE Information Centres Ronan Harris (right) with Enda Kenny Source: RollingNews.ie

He added that the policy set by the Irish government also needs to make sure that the future generations of the Irish workforce have the required skills to fill the most in demand jobs in years to come.

“By 2020 the most in demand job will be that of a data scientist. My children, who are six and eight … when they leave school, of the top 20 most in-demand jobs, two-thirds of them haven’t been invented.

“I’m trying to consider my child’s education today and what skills they might need when they graduate from university in 20 years time and how I guide them for a set of jobs not invented yet.

“Even when my kids hit 18, I have a bet with my wife that they will not neither want to or need to learn how to drive. That will become normal.”

Written by Killian Woods and posted on Fora.ie

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