A question of trust
- By Paula Shaki Trimble
- May 22, 2000
"In Uncle Sam we trust" might not roll off too many people's tongues today,
but federal information technology officials recognize that public trust
is a key ingredient for an effective digital government.
In creating the policy framework for electronic governance and access
to government information, basic issues that have little to do with technology
must be addressed first, government officials, policy analysts and researchers
said during the dg.o (DigitalGovernment.Org) 2000 conference held last week in Los Angeles.
The conference, hosted by the University of Southern California Information
Sciences Institute and Columbia University Digital Government Research Center,
demonstrated IT research funded by the National Science Foundation's Digital
Some of the mechanisms supporting digital government are the buzzwords
of the day privacy, security, authentication and trust, said Keith Thurston,
assistant to the deputy associate administrator of the General Services
Administration's Office of Governmentwide Policy. Thurston said "cybertrust"
is key to getting citizens to complete transactions with the government
Some commercial enterprises, such as Entrust.com, have tried to create
guarantees that they follow privacy policies, but when those policies are
breached, the companies have backed away from liability, Thurston said.
consequences for a breach in policy, he said. Legal recourse for citizens
whose privacy is compromised is also necessary to gain trust in e-government,
For government, a lack of trust in privacy or security means the loss
of a transaction, Thurston said. The ability to process those transactions
will mean huge savings, increased quality and improved services, he said.
For instance, it costs the government $14 if a person requests federal
tax forms by phone, $7 by mail and $3.50 by walking into a post office to
pick them up in person. By contrast, online requests for those forms cost
the government 13 cents.
One of the most difficult struggles in gaining trust will be striking
a balance between providing broad access to government information and protecting
the confidentiality of personal information, said Katherine Wallman, the
government's chief statistician at the Office of Management and Budget and
head of the Interagency Council on Statistical Policy. "We want to achieve
a balance among collecting and then using data to make government policy
decisions," he said.
Although the public wants unified services from federal, state and local
agencies, the privacy concerns that prevent different levels of government
from sharing information are obstacles to such efficiency, said Graeme Browning,
editorial director, "Briefing the President," at the Internet Policy Institute.
An NSF Digital Government project at the National Institute of Statistical
Sciences focuses solely on that debate, said Larry Brandt, NSF's digital
government program manager.
The Council for Excellence in Government also is about to start its
biannual poll on public trust in government.