Canada securing e-gov

Canada, which already has the most advanced electronic government in the world, has hired a consortium of companies to help develop the privacy and security features needed to expand its online government services.

By 2004, the Canadian government wants to have an online network known as Secure Channel that will enable 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.

Entrust Technologies Inc., Plano, Texas, is among the companies hired by the consortium's lead, Canada's BCE Nexxia, to develop the secure network.

Entrust Senior Vice President Dan 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. The $17.6 million contract also calls for Entrust to provide software systems to track individuals' entitlements and verify that transactions have taken place.

The goal is to have an electronic government that enables citizens to conduct any government transaction via computer, including wireless devices. "They're way ahead of anyone else in the 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," according to an Accenture report.

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

The U.S. government's portal, FirstGov (www.first.gov), does not offer the security needed for users to fill out forms, prove their identity and verify their eligibility for services and benefits. Unless secure, verifiable transactions can be carried out, U.S. e-government is unlikely to develop beyond "just an information service," he said.

Building Secure Channel is expected to cost more than $2 billion.

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