At least 8 in every 10 local government website in Australia fails to protect its users’ data, a study has found.

OpenCities – a developer of government websites – conducted a benchmarking study of all Australian council websites, finding that 86% lacked encryption to protect users’ privacy.

This poses a “significant” risk to citizens, the study found, since government transactions can involve highly sensitive data like payment details, names and addresses. If websites are not encrypted, all of the information passed between citizens and governments online can be eavesdropped.

Popular browsers ask visitors to proceed with caution when entering an insecure website. Such messages could reduce the functionality of websites, and undermine residents’ trust in the council’s services.

Some users may choose not to use online services as a result, and fall back on phone or counter services. As a result, councils would not get the same savings on the cost of delivering services.

The benchmarking report gives every council in Australia an opportunity to measure the performance of their website against eight basic digital service norms, like privacy.

OpenCities is using this research to build a shared platform for local governments to launch websites without the costs of bespoke development. Councils will not have to hire specialist programmers to make updates or add new functionalities.

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