Amid a deluge of hacking headlines and bad experiences with data crimes such as identity theft, most Americans now want government agencies to strengthen protections of their digital data, even if doing so means sacrificing conveniences, a new survey has found.
Accenture, a professional services and global management consulting company, conducted the study, which questioned about 3,500 U.S. citizens, and released the results this week. A significant majority (79 percent) of those polled said they were worried about the privacy and security of their personal digital data, with about two-thirds (63 percent) also saying they would feel better if government agencies strengthened data privacy and security policies.
Lalit Ahluwalia, who leads Accenture’s security work with state and local government clients in North America, said this increase in concern is joined by rising awareness among citizens. The main source of the insecurity seems to be the frequent headlines about hacking attacks and digital government vulnerabilities, a frequent topic of media coverage during last year’s presidential election. Many of the respondents to the survey, however, also had experiences with their personal data being compromised in problematic ways — about 30 percent of those surveyed said they had been victims of identity theft.
“People are becoming more and more aware,” said Ahluwalia, “as well as concerned.”
Ahluwalia emphasized that government agencies must do a better job instilling confidence in the citizenry that their personal data is safe with public servants. Many agencies are undergoing a digital culture shift, one that has seen them reorient from making assumptions and guesses about what the public wants, to basing their online capabilities on input and feedback from those they serve. In short, state and local governments are copying the customer service attitude long present in private businesses.
Ahluwalia said it was this ongoing shift in thinking that spurred the survey. As governments across the country set out to better pinpoint the digital services their constituents want, Accenture wanted to explore cybersecurity in that context. It learned that a vast majority of the respondents — 79 percent — felt that their data was as safe with government agencies as it was with commercial entities.
One actionable finding for government agencies was that many citizens are willing to sacrifice convenience if it means stronger digital data protections, with two-thirds of those surveyed saying they would be OK with that. The study determined there's wide support for government embracing emerging technologies and conducting regular security assessments.
Ahluwalia said the stakes for boosting trust in this situation are high. Government can roll out sleek, intuitive and easy-to-use digital services to make people’s lives better, but what’s the point if nobody trusts them with their personal data? “If you don’t have much trust or confidence, there’s going to be less adoption overall,” he said.
This survey comes in the wake of the introduction of the State Cyber Resiliency Act, which was introduced by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators and members of the House. If the legislation comes to fruition, it would create a dedicated grant program to distribute federal money to states so they can develop and implement plans for protecting themselves against the type of cybersecurity breaches that concern so many of those who took the survey. The bill also has funding set to go to local governments. In discussing this bill, many confirmed that cyber insecurity felt by the survey respondents was warranted, and that state and local governments are facing unprecedented and aggressive levels of digital threats.