Use Case 4 - Semantic MyPage

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Use Case: "Semantic MyPage" - automatic legal assistance for citizens

Identifier

UC-EGIG-SID-004

Author(s)

Kjetil Helberg, Steinar Skagemo

Problem Definition

In a welfare state, legislation regulates whether a person is entitled to the different types of "safety-net"-allowances, depending on their income, whether they have a family to take care of, etc. In certain situations, a citizen might be entitled to different allowances from different governmental bodies. The process of finding out which rights one has, or even finding out who to ask to when in doubt, is often difficult. The paradox is that this is especially difficult for those persons for whom the "safety-net" is of highest importance.

Target population

Citizens of welfare states

Description

see elaboration below

Target software

Reasoners, Web interfaces

Identified problems or limitations

Formulating laws as inferencable rules, see below

Related initiatives

RDF, RIF, OWL

Priorization

the prioritization of this use case



The concept "Semantic MyPage"[2] describes a combination of:

  1. a citizen's portal that provides access to personal data from governmental agencies. The Norwegian MyPage-portal[3] does already deliever this.
  2. excerpts of legislation transformed to a standardised rule language. More or less every governmental body has some kind of automatic case processing system that includes some lines of programming code that is in fact a transformation of some rule or regulation.

The result of this combination is a service that can give citizens automatic legal assistance, so that they both can become aware of what rights they have, and how to execute those rights.

This can be achieved by extending the existing Norwegian MyPage-portal with Semantic Web-technologies from W3C.

Below is (A) a presentation of the challenge of giving citiziens information about their rights, (B) a presentation of the existing Norwegian MyPage-portal, (C) an overview of what needs to be done to get from todays "MyPage" to "Semantic MyPage", and (D) a short discussion of some of the additional benefits of the concept.


A) The challenge: Giving Citizens information about their rights

In a welfare state, legislation regulates whether a person is entitled to the different types of "safety-net"-allowances, depending on their income, whether they have a family to take care of, etc. In certain situations, a citizen might be entitled to different allowances from different governmental bodies. The process of finding out which rights one has, or even finding out who to ask to when in doubt, is often difficult. The paradox is that this is especially difficult for those persons for whom the "safety-net" is of highest importance.

In the case where a person believes he or she has the right to a certain allowance, and has applied for it, processing the case is normally fully or semi-automatic, performed by a case processing system, which evaluates information about the applicant. The information comes partly from the applicants themselves, partly from information that is already available to the agency, either in its internal registries, or from other governmental agencies.

It is assumed, in Norway, that if all the information that is registered about each citizen in all the governmental agencies was collected and analysed, one would have enough information to determine that many individuals do not get the allowances they are entitled to. On the other hand, collecting all these data within one agency would entail a considerable threat to privacy. Instead, the citizens themselves - and no-one else - should be equipped with both a means for collecting their personal data, and have access to the algorithms and logic tied into the different (semi)automatic case processing systems that exist in the different governmental agencies.


B) About the Norwegian MyPage-portal

Since December 2006, Norwegian citizens have had access to the MyPage citizen portal, the official one-stop online service centre. One type of service MyPage offers, is the "register service", which provides the user with a presentation of personal data stored in public registers, for instance information from the National People Registry.

On behalf of the user, the portal accesses standardised Web Services, provided by the governmental agencies. These Web Services return the personal data the agency has (if any). The agency controls the presentation of the data through the use of a style sheet (XSL). A register service is for presentation only. The information presented to the user is not used by the portal in any way.

An example of one such register-service is "My address", which presents information from the Central National Registry, including personal identification number, address and civil status.

MyPage won the 2007 European eGovernement Awards, in the category "Participation and transparency".

As of today, the portal treats all users equally. If you are 80 years old, you will still get the same menu with application form for doing military service or kindergarten, as those who are 30. With "Semantic MyPage", this could be changed.


C) To get from MyPage to "Semantic MyPage" -- what needs to be done?

  1. Personal data must be available as RDF/OWL: Today, the MyPage portal receives personal data as XML-documents, which are processed according to the XSL-style sheet for presentation purposes only. For Semantic MyPage the personal data must be available as RDF/OWL.
  2. Legislation must be transformed to RIF: Algorithms and logic in automatic case processing systems, representing rules as stated in the welfare legislation, must be transformed to rules expressed in RIF.
  3. RIF-rules must refer to the RDF/OWL-data: The agencies must make sure the RIF-rules (2) reference the RDF/OWL-data (1), in the same manner as their case processing systems of today reference the right field in the right table in the right database.


D) Benefits

In addition to the obvious benefit of increasing the likelihood of citizens actually realising the rights they have, the "Semantic MyPage" is likely to result in other benefits related to enhanced privacy, rule of law and democracy:

  • Privacy: Seeing in which context, and for which decisions, their personal data are being used, the citizen will have an increased awareness of the importance of correct and up-to-date information in the public registries.
  • Rule-of-law: Normally, when the parliament votes for a new law that adds to the "safety-net", the new rules will have to be transformed from the legislation-text to a programming language in a case processing system..Since the case processing system is "locked in" inside agency-borders, the result of the transformation is only accessible to inspection and revision by the agency employees. The "Semantic MyPage", on the contrary, forces the result of the transformation to be available as open information, in RIF-syntax, which makes it possible for anyone to control whether the formalised rule expresses the same meaning as intended by the parliament.
  • Democracy: Improved means of control with and improved understanding of the actual meaning of legislation, makes it easier for citizens to participate. Political parties can make RIF-rules that reflect alternatives, thus making it possible for citizens to simulate how the political parties' promises would affect their lives.

Positive results of experiments As part of our Master-thesis, the concept has been tested with an experimental prototype, based on CWM and transformation of two example-rulesets to CWM-rules. The rules are applied to RDF-data similar to the data available in the MyPage-portal as of today, and it is possible to get a conclusion as to whether the user is likely to be entitled for an allowance or not.

The protoype developed as part of the Master Thesis, demonstrates how the transformation of the legislation to formalized (RIF-)rules, can be performed and managed by the agencies who is responsible for a given allowance, while "Semantic MyPage" only implements a general control structure. This is of course of very high importance. Breaking the existing organisational lines of responsibility for managing the transformation of the rule-sets from legislation to formal rules, would obviously make the concept impossible to realize, as it would be in conflict with the constitution.

References:

[1] This use case is based on a Master-thesis at the Norwegian Research Center for Computers and Law (NRCCL)/Section for Information Technology and Administrative Systems (SITAS) NRCCL web: http://www.jus.uio.no/iri/english/index.html SITAS web: http://www.afin.uio.no/english/research/papers.html

[2] "Semantisk Minside - semantisk web og rettighetsinformasjon" - Master Thesis by Kjetil Helberg and Steinar Skagemo (Norwegian only) web: http://sskagemo.googlepages.com/SemantiskMinsidefotnotefiks.doc

[3] MyPage -- http://www.norway.no/minside/tjeneste.asp

[4] 2007 European eGovernment Award -- winners: http://www.epractice.eu/space/1/10




Submitted by Kjetil Kjernsmo, Computas AS, on behalf of Kjetil Helberg (kjetil@helberg.no) and Steinar Skagemo (sskagemo@gmail.com).


Disclaimer: Although Steinar Skagemo works at the Agency for Public Management and eGovernment (DIFI), the agency responsible for the existing MyPage portal, this use case is a private submission and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of DIFI.