E-gov pleases, worries Americans
- By William Matthews
- Sep 29, 2000
The E-Government Poll
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
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
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.