Israel’s Attorney General Guideline to Advance Transition to Digital Services in Government Ministries
In October 2019, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit published a detailed guideline document addressed to the legal counsels of various government ministries. The guideline is intended to assist and support such government ministries in the transition from the paper world to the digital world, as well as to establish arrangements for government and public digital services, such as digital signature, use of emails for public services, remote identification, and more.
The guideline, which focuses on the legal aspects of digital arrangements, covers government ministries, agencies, and other departments of the State. It reflects a policy expressed in a line of government resolutions, with the intention to encourage development and efficiency, as well as to improve services to the public while protecting public interest.
One of the most important statements in the guideline is how to interpret existing laws in light of digitization trends. In this context, the guideline encourages legal counsels to interpret laws broadly and to assume that the law allows the existence of a digital arrangement. In other words, to the extent the legislation does not include any indication negating the possibility of taking an action in a digital manner, then it may be conducted digitally. In the case of a law that requires amendment in order to implement a digital arrangement, it is recommended that the law be drafted with a high level of abstraction and be technology-neutral, so that it remains applicable as the technology advances and also stays up-to-date.
This is a significant assertion as it may impact the intersection between the private market and government institutions even in the context of receiving documents electronically and digitally. This guideline may also be used as an interpretation tool when the question arises as to the admissibility of electronic documents.
As to the matter of implementation in government offices, the document details a series of rules for the establishment of a digital arrangement, including, inter alia:
- Fitting the arrangement to its purposes – For example, an arrangement involving a digital prescription signed by a physician should accomplish, inter alia, the following goals: identifying the signing physician and the physician’s consent to sign the prescription, assurance that the prescription was not altered after it was signed, and assurance that there cannot be repeated use of the same prescription. Failing to achieve these goals may compromise public health in cases of forgery, overdosing, or drug dealing, and may even cause economic harm to HMOs in cases of subsidies.
- Efficiency, simplicity, and applicability.
- Fairness of the arrangement in its suitability to the population it is designed to cover – For instance, the authority must consider the burden placed on the citizen, the reasonability of establishing the digital channel as a sole channel, properly addressing those without the skills or means to use digital channels, and providing incentives for citizens to join the digital arrangement. This is one of the greatest challenges posed by digital arrangements, which can discriminate against populations with limited access to technology, who are also considerable users of governmental services.
- Rules for setting presumptions as to receipt (such as regarding the service of notices of fines) – To the extent a decision is made to establish a presumption regarding receipt at a digital address, it must be rebuttable, and it must guarantee at a high level of certainty that the notice was received. Among others things, it is recommended that the digital address to which the notice is sent be one that is regularly used by the addressee. Measures should also be taken to ensure the process maintains the completeness and integrity of the notice, preventing its alteration, disruption, or loss.
As mentioned above, this is an important guideline that ought to ease the bureaucratic burden of government operation as well as influence the interpretation of existing legislation. We can only hope it is implemented.