Helping governments to keep citizen data private and secure

Microsoft’s Jennifer Byrne explains how the growth of digital information is affecting public agencies

Sean Dudley
Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley on 07 September 2016
Helping governments to keep citizen data private and secure

This article first appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of The Record.

More public sector services and functions are now being delivered digitally and more citizen engagement is taking place online. This is causing governments to reimagine both why and how often they collect citizen data and how they ensure information remains private and secure.

From census data to data about services or tax systems, public sector agencies have always been ‘in the business of collecting data’ according to Jennifer Byrne, chief technology officer, worldwide public sector at Microsoft.

“Now governments, from municipal to federal, are waking up to the opportunity to use data to improve the delivery of services to their constituents,” said Byrne. “With a bank or a retailer, a ‘big data opportunity’ implies there may be a chance to accelerate return on investment (ROI) over more traditional business models. Governments operate differently, because ROI is measured more broadly than in economic terms. It could include the ability to address a socio-economic problem that has otherwise been intractable.”

In the government space, vast amounts of data is confidential in nature, and often has its own security and privacy requirements.

“We’ve known this since long before data was digitised, and it’s why records were kept in locked rooms where very few people had access to them,” said Byrne. “Now that data can be easily shared, we have to get much more nuanced about how private data really is.”

Byrne says that good data classification and data governance schemes are key to this.

Major investment is taking place in these areas, enabling government agencies to classify their own data.

“Once they know what security and privacy requirements are required for each record type, how they can be used and who can use them, then they can insert technologies to enforce that schema,” said Byrne. “Without the underlying organisational framework, the technology is limited in what it can do.”

Microsoft is working closely with governments to understand what their data requirements are.

“Office 365 is really all about collaboration around data – creating, storing, and sharing data that allows people to work together to achieve their mission,” says Byrne. “The ability to securely collaborate using confidential data underpins what productivity is in the government space, and Office 365 has a lot of features that allow a granular approach to data protection.”

With the release of Windows 10, Microsoft is further expanding its data protection.

“In Windows 10, we also have enterprise data protection,” says Byrne. “It’s one thing to have data protection as a cloud service, but the reality is people consume data on their devices. If you don’t have complementary controls on the device, at both the application and hardware levels, you’re only solving part of the problem. Windows 10 has a set of features called enterprise data protection, that work in a very complementary fashion to the data protection features in Office 365 so that you’re able to protect data wherever it is.”


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