Perception of e-gov shifting

The Hart-Teeter e-government poll

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 have altered the public's perception of

electronic government. Americans now see e-government as a key tool for

catching and prosecuting terrorists and for coordinating government responses

to bioterrorism attacks, according to a newly released poll.

Surveys conducted by the Hart-Teeter polling organization found that

70 percent of the public believes e-government can help fight terrorism

by enabling agencies such as the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control

and Prevention and local law enforcement to share information. Seventy-seven

percent think that similar information sharing can help agencies coordinate

a response to a public health threat or bioterrorism attack.

Furthermore, 90 percent favor e-government systems that would help federal,

state and local law enforcement agencies exchange information to catch and

prosecute criminals and terrorists.

In a similar survey a year before the terrorist attacks, the public

looked to e-government chiefly as a way to learn more about what government

was doing — and thus hold government accountable — and to receive services.

Both polls were conducted by Hart-Teeter for the Council for Excellence

in Government, a private good-government advocate. The current survey was

released Feb. 26 and is based on two surveys of about 1,500 people conducted

in November 2001.

Public understanding of e-government as a way to improve government

operations such as information sharing shows that "Americans view e-government

as going beyond Web sites," said Albert Edmonds, president of EDS' U.S.

Government Solutions, which paid for the poll.

Overall, 42 percent of those polled say they "feel positive toward e-government."

That compares to the 35 percent who felt positive about e-government when

polled in August 2000.

But the positive feelings haven't allayed the public's most basic e-government

fear. Sixty-four percent of those polled say they remain "extremely concerned

about hackers breaking into government computers." The big worry is that

hackers will gain access to personal information and use it to steal identities.

Similarly, only 35 percent of Internet users said they think it is safe

to pay a ticket or a fine with a credit card on a government Web site. Commercial

Internet sites got a higher safety rating: 45 percent said they thought

it was safe to buy things over the Internet from commercial sites. By comparison,

in August 2000, 36 percent thought it was safe to buy from commercial sites.

The most surprising finding in the 2000 poll was that 54 percent of

the public expected the Internet to make it easier to hold government accountable

for what it does or fails to do. The November surveys showed the public's

belief that e-government can improve accountability had increased to 62


One e-government feature that is losing support is online voting. Sixty-three

percent of the public opposes online voting, and among those who favor it,

support has dropped from 38 percent in August 2000 to 33 percent today,

the poll found.


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