“Ask Once” Programming in Pakistan

TO: Prime Minister of Pakistan

FROM: Aisha Iqbal, Chief Technology Advisor

SUBJECT: Potential for Federal Agency Integration

Summary: As the government of Pakistan hopes to modernize its current social services, one key proposal has been implementing an “ask once” policy for all federal departments/agencies. This memo seeks to analyze both the benefits of such a policy along with the potential challenges and risks associated with implementation and coordination. From there, an action decision will be recommended.

Benefits:

  • Improved user experience: Through this policy, Pakistani citizens and residents will be able to more seamlessly navigate through different agency services with a singular log-in protocol. Since the country already has computerized national identity cards, the sign-in can potentially be the individual’s unique id.
  • Convenience for different stakeholders: From a user perspective, only needed to know one password or having to go through one log-in window expedites the process. From a government perspective, it becomes easier to track agency use by individuals since each log-in will be tracked through an immutable record. Additionally, this would streamline services resulting in agency savings around duplicate services.
  • Accessibility across country: Pakistan not only has a population spread across mountainous regions; it suffers from high illiteracy rates. An “ask once” policy will make it easier for individuals with limited access to technology to quickly access needed forms and services. Similarly, this policy will enable those with limited Urdu and English comprehension skills to memorize a single password and still have sufficient access.  

Challenges:

  • Buy-in from minority communities: In order to make this policy and process seamless, the government has to have a high enough participation rate as possible. For this, there needs to be an added security and data privacy element associated with the program for religious and minority groups who have been previously persecuted in the country and have rightful suspicion. There needs to be some form of encryption associated with individual public/private keys so that specific identifying characteristics cannot be highlighted.
  • Buy-in from government agencies: Additionally, in order to maximize effectiveness, as many agencies as possible have to join into this system. There needs to be a data separation assurance provided as some may not want to directly share individual information with another (ex: ministry of immigration vs ministry of health).
  • Maintaining privacy with limited resources: This will be a costly short-term endeavor with long-term saving potential. In order for those cost savings to materialize, it is imperative that the government invests in continued system maintenance in order to minimize risk.

Risks:

  • Centralized attack: Pakistan is home to numerous domestic and international threats. With a centralized data collection system, the government is making itself susceptible to potential security mishaps unless there is a strong architecture supporting this program.

Decision:

  • The government of Pakistan should take action towards an “ask once” policy due to the ease of access it would provide the Pakistani residents. In order to ensure there are limited data privacy concerns, there should be a concerted financial and bureaucratic effort to maintain the program in accordance with international privacy standards.   

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