Canada securing e-government

Canada, which already has the most advanced electronic government in the world, has hired a Texas company to help develop the enhanced privacy and security features needed for the nation's expanding online government services.

By 2004, the Canadian government wants to have an online network known as the Secure Channel that enables citizens to perform transactions with government—from paying taxes to applying for benefits to starting businesses—with assurances that the transactions will remain private and secure.

The Canadian government has hired a consortium of companies including Entrust Technologies Inc., Plano, Texas, to develop the secure network.

Entrust vice president Daniel Burton said his company will provide the Secure Channel service with digital signature capabilities so citizens will be able to provide identification when they deal with government officials via the Internet. A $17.6 million contract also calls for Entrust to provide the Canadian government with software systems to keep track of individuals' entitlements and the ability to verify that transactions have taken place.

Canada's goal is to have an electronic government that enables Canadian citizens to conduct any government transaction by computer—including wireless devices such as personal digital assistants—from anywhere and at any time.

"They're way ahead of anyone else in world," Burton said.

This spring Canada was identified as the world's e-government leader by the technology consulting firm Accenture. Canada surged ahead of the United States and Singapore and "has begun to turn rhetoric into reality," Accenture said in a report on e-government efforts around the world.

Canada boasts a central government portal (www.canada.gc.ca) through which citizens can get information and services from federal, provincial and local government agencies, Burton said.

The United States has a central government portal, FirstGov, that now provides access to state Web sites as well as all federal Web sites, but FirstGov does not offer the sort of security assurances needed for users to be able to fill out forms, be identified and have eligibility for services and benefits verified, he said.

Unless secure, identifiable, verifiable transactions can be carried out, U.S. e-government is unlikely to develop beyond "just an information service," Burton said.

For Canada, building the Secure Channel will be the country's largest technology undertaking. It is expected to cost more than $2 billion.

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