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Read, Listen, Inform: Government Publications in Action (August 2018): Privacy and E-Government

By Aimée C. Quinn

Privacy and E-Government

E-government in theory is a wonderful way to offer services and programs to citizens. Using technologies to keep citizens informed, providing all government services through technologies to make government more transparent and understandable, and to ensure the people and the government are working in tandem are the theoretical goals of e-government. In E-government: Information, Technology, and Transformation, a collection of essays discussing e-governance as part of the information management system context, Hans J. Scholl writes, “Electronic government (EG) is a domain of action and study addressing ‘the use of information and technology to support and improve public policies and government operations, engage citizens, and provide comprehensive and timely government services.’”

In the 1990s, the United States was a leader in e-government services, beginning with (now Local, state, and federal governments offer e-government services, as Scholl and his colleagues discuss and evaluate. They also evaluate information technology structure and implementation of e-government. Bertot, Jaeger, and McClure evaluate how public libraries are the base for e-government today, especially after natural disasters. In their book Public Libraries and the Internet, they reveal the important function in any community that libraries offer during normal situations and times of disaster. Showcasing how the underserved are best served by e-government is also a theme of the OECD study Rethinking E-Government Services: User-Centered Approaches, which examines the infrastructure, trends, timeliness, marketing strategies, and other indicators of OECD countries. Darrell West’s State and Federal Electronic Government in the United States, 2008 provides one of the best overall studies of e-government services to date.

Just as in the early days of the United States when printing was new and everyone was reading the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers, e-government services revolutionized citizen engagement. Americans were ahead of other countries in the early years of the twenty-first century in their use of e-government services and projects, as detailed in Managing E-Government Projects and E-Government Success Factors and Measures, both part of the excellent Advances in Electronic Government, Digital Divide, and Regional Development (AEGDDRD) book series.

A key challenge in the delivery of e-government services is the “digital divide” where the poor have less access to services than others in the community. Frequently, these citizens rely on public libraries for internet access, as described by Bertot, Jaeger, and McClure. Additionally, due to the uneven infrastructure across the United States, citizens in different geographical regions can be more privileged than others.

Much like the early days of our new nation establishing its government, transition from one form of government to another takes time. Services such as filing tax forms are primarily completed electronically today, yet there remains a need for print forms. Census counts are still collected every ten years by hand to ensure proper enumeration. There are still many government services handled with paper, from voting to applications for vital records, since digital authentication is still not guaranteed in an environment plagued with hacking concerns. The GPO is one of the few agencies that has digital authentication and proudly discusses this technology in its “Strategic Vision for the 21st Century.” Yet privacy remains a contentious issue, even as many citizens believe they are protected, despite more and more hackers breaching online security, causing massive loss of personal data. Concerns of these kinds were alluded to as early as 2003 in a CRS Report by Jeffery Seifert, Report for Congress: A Primer on E-Government: Sectors, Stages, Opportunities, and Challenges of Online Governance.