Review and Future Trends of the Spanish Law for Electronic Access to Public Services

By Josemaría Malgosa - Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena, Spain, Juan Pedro Muñoz-Gea - Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena, Spain and Pilar Manzanares - Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena, Spain

Since its approval in 2007, the Law for Electronic Access to Public Services has constituted a challenge for each and every one of the Spanish central, regional and local Public Administrations. The ambiguity of some of the most important aspects of the law, together with the lack of both experience and resources of the majority of the administrations (especially the local ones), initially produced a rather expected adverse reaction in its implementation. The initial pace of implementation was much slower than expected. However, the effort has not been in vain, because at least it has led Spanish administrations toward the digital era irreversibly.

To boost its rapid implementation, the Spanish Government was aware of the need to develop a set of background resources to provide the necessary support for this new digital era. These resources were split into two parts: The first one was the extension of the legal framework in order to provide new laws to deal with Security and Interoperability issues. This is the case, for example, of the Royal Decrees 3/2010 and 4/2010 which set out what has been called the National Security and Interoperability Schemes, respectively. These laws define methodologies, guidelines and requirements to guarantee, first, secure services (citizens have to be convinced that the digital services are even more secure than paper-based procedures), and then that the data can be easily interchanged among different administrations but always following the restrictions imposed by the Law of Personal Data Protection.

The second extension consisted in the creation of a set of institutions, global services and software tools to help the administrations during the process of developing their own electronic access solutions. For example, one of the most, if not the most, important institutions created was the National Cryptologic Center (CCN in Spanish), which is an institution whose main responsibility consists in providing instructions, guidelines and recommendations to Spanish administrations to reach the objectives outlined in the above-mentioned National Security Scheme. Additionally, the CNN is also in charge of articulating the response to any kind of security incidents. Moreover, the Government puts some of the most important services for electronic access (e.g., a digital signature service conforming to the European laws or the Notification service, among others) as an accessible service for all administrations through the Application Systems and Networks for Administration network (SARA network in Spanish). Finally, in the Electronic Administration Portal (PAE in Spanish), any national, regional or local administration can find more than 350 software solutions developed by the Technological Transfer Center with the objective of helping the administrations in the implementation of their own Electronic Access Services. The CCN, in order to stablish a common mark to fight against security threats, has also developed a rich set of software tools freely available for any public Spanish Administration.

Without doubt, one of the signs of the progress that successive governments have made in this field in recent years is the continuous evolution of the legal framework associated with electronic access to public services. This never-disrupted update of the legal framework can only be explained taking into account the inherent complexity of the problem the Administrations are trying to face. As everyone knows, Internet is a continuous evolving world (especially in regards to security issues). In addition, not only civil servants but also citizens need time to be familiarized with the new procedures.

Although it is true that more than once, the government has been forced to extend the law applicability deadline, honestly speaking, this cannot be attributed to a negligent attitude of neither public administrations nor governments. Actually, all national and regional Administrations have already implanted electronic access to almost all of their public services. The main problem is the local administrations, especially the smallest ones. While offering some procedures in electronic form, many of them have not yet reached an acceptable level of digitalization.

However, the scene is not so bad. Fortunately, local administrations of each Spanish province are grouped into councils. The relevance of the Spanish councils has been often questioned not only by politicians but also by society. However, their role in boosting the digitalization of local administrations has been, and is still, crucial, since as far as electronic access to public services is concern, councils have led the digital transformation on behalf of their partners. For example, according to the IRIA report (Las Tecnologías de la Información y las Comunicaciones en las Administraciones Públicas, IRIA-2018, available at Portal Administración Electrónica, over 75 percent of the councils have implemented at least one virtual branch. Regarding digital services offered by councils, it is important to highlight that 69 percent of them offer an electronic notification service, 66 percent offer a citizen folder service, 56 percent offer an electronic filing system, and 28 percent offer electronic payment systems. Regarding digital services offered by local Administrations, the electronic invoice leads the ranking wit 82 percent, which is not strange because from January 15, 2015, the invoices addressed to the Public Administrations must be electronic (in accordance with Law 25/2013, of December 27). It is followed by the electronic registration and notification services with 70 percent and 60 percent, respectively.

In most cases, what has really caused a serious delay in the development of electronic access to public services has been related to a lack of an appropriate budget. This fact, which is always stalking over European countries, gives a major merit to those who have struggled to make electronic access a reality even under these adverse economic conditions. Of course, there are still many things to do. The convergence toward digital services is actually a never ending task. But in summary, it is unquestionable that Spanish Administrations have made a huge effort to reach the European council targets.