E-gov pleases, worries Americans

The E-Government Poll

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In overwhelming numbers, Americans are pleased to be able to obtain much

government information and some government services over the Internet, a

nationwide survey shows. At the same time, most Americans worry that the

Internet lacks adequate security and privacy to protect their personal information.

The survey results indicate that "the public is extraordinarily receptive

to electronic government," said Peter Hart, one of two pollsters who surveyed

nearly 1,500 individuals in mid-August.

Poll results show that people believe the Internet offers easier access

to government information and creates the potential for government agencies

to become more responsive and more efficient.

But two out of three Americans — 66 percent — also say they "are very

concerned about the possibility of hackers breaking into government computers,

making this the No. 1 public concern about e-government," Hart said.

Slightly fewer — 55 percent — say they worry that government employees

will misuse personal information, such as tax records or driver's license

information.

Solutions range from improving computer security at government agencies

to issuing passwords and digital signatures to Internet users. But even

with those measures, it will take time to convince the public that the Internet

is safe, Hart said.

The poll, conducted by Hart and Robert Teeter, relied on telephone interviews

with 1,003 members of the general public, 150 government officials and 155

operators of businesses and nonprofit organizations.

The most surprising finding, Hart said Thursday, was that the public

expects the Internet to make it easier to hold government accountable for

what it does or fails to do.

"The survey results suggest that Americans have an agenda for e-government,"

Hart and Teeter reported. "They see its potential for giving citizens more

information, which gives people the power to hold their government more

accountable."

Government officials, by contrast, said the most important benefits

from electronic government would be greater access to information and more

convenient government services.

Indeed, e-government is often touted for making it possible to file

tax returns online or renew driver's licenses without standing in line.

But in another surprise, the poll found that less than half of the public

is enthusiastic about those two services.

Apparently, Americans fear online privacy breaches more than they loathe

standing in line at the department of motor vehicles, Hart said.

The survey found that 35 percent of American adults are frequent users

of the Internet, 28 percent use it infrequently and 37 percent don't use

it at all.

Among Internet users, 66 percent said they had visited at least one

government Web site. Federal Web sites got the most traffic, with visits

from 54 percent of Internet users. State sites attracted 45 percent, and

local government sites drew 36 percent. Seventy-one percent of visitors

to government Web sites rated them excellent or good.

The poll was conducted for the Council for Excellence in Government,

a private group that promotes improved performance by government.

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