Web sites reinforce security and privacy policies, review finds

Web sites reinforce security and privacy policies, review finds

A Brown University analysis of government Web sites found that more federal and state sites are taking security and privacy seriously compared to last year.

The Center for Public Policy at Brown analyzed 1,265 federal and state sites, measuring available features, variations between state and federal sites, and responsiveness to citizens’ information requests.

According to the study, 34 percent of the sites now have a visible security policy, up from 18 percent last year. And 43 percent have some form of privacy policy, up from 28 percent two years ago.

But the attention to security has led to an increase in restricted areas on government Web sites, some of which require registration and passwords for access, and occasionally fees. Six percent of government sites surveyed had restricted areas and 1 percent had premium features requiring payment.

“These developments are encouraging the creation of a two-class society in regard to e-government,” the Brown report said.

The study found that 93 percent of government sites provide access to publications and 57 percent provide access to databases. Of the Web sites examined this year, 23 percent offered services that users could execute fully online, roughly the same number as last year. The most frequently offered services were tax payment, job application, driver’s license renewal, and hunting and fishing licensing.

Twenty-eight percent of the sites now have a measure of access for users with disabilities, compared to 27 percent last year, the study said. Seven percent of sites offered some foreign language access, up from 6 percent last year.

The Brown researchers gave high marks to the sites of seven federal organizations: the Labor, Treasury and State departments; Environmental Protection Agency; Federal Communications Commission; General Services Administration’s FirstGov; and Social Security Administration. The lowest rankings went to the sites run by the U.S. circuit courts and the Supreme Court.

Among state sites, the researchers praised the sites of California, Connecticut, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, South Dakota, Utah and Washington. They assigned low ratings to the sites of Alabama, Colorado, Mississippi and Wyoming.

Public officials’ responsiveness to Web inquiries has fallen, the study said. Last year, 80 percent of government officials answered the researchers' sample query, only 55 percent did so in 2002.

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