E-gov is easier, but citizens worry about security

E-gov is easier, but citizens worry about security

Citizens say e-government makes their lives easier by providing greater use of online government services, but at the same time it raises concerns about data security and privacy. That’s the finding of a new study from the Council for Excellence in Government.

“The more we know about citizens and e-government, the more we see a trade-off between convenience and ease of use and security and privacy,” said Pat McGinnis, president and chief executive officer for the Washington nonprofit.

The council based its study on a poll Hart-Teeter Research conducted in February. Hart-Teeter surveyed 1,023 U.S. adults—603 e-government users and 408 senior government employees—as well as 2,013 Internet users in Australia, Canada, Singapore, Spain and the United Kingdom. Hart-Teeter also held two focus groups in Tampa, Fla.

The report, The New E-government Equation: Ease, Engagement, Privacy and Protection, issued yesterday by the council, showed that three-quarters of the U.S. e-government user respondents said online government information has made their lives easier, and two-thirds said e-government programs have made it easier to do business with government.

“It’s not going to be used by everybody for everything, but we are crossing over into another era, from listening and observing government to doing business with government over the Internet. If the good news is how well people are using this, the even better news is how they feel about it,” said Peter Hart, CEO of Peter D. Hart Research Associates Inc. of Washington.

The council defined e-government as the use of the Internet and other technologies to:

  • Make government information available on Web sites

  • Improve communications among agencies

  • Let citizens conduct business online, such as filing taxes or receiving services.

  • Once people start using e-government services, they become converts, the council concluded. Of all the adults surveyed, most—38 percent—said they preferred in-person contact when doing business with the government. But among e-government users, 41 percent said they preferred online transactions.

    “If you’ve ever tried to call one of the government [agencies], you can be on hold for three days. If you have the Internet, your answer might not be there, but it might. You have another place to go,” one focus group participant said.

    The study “confirms what we see every day,” said Stanley Gutkowski, managing partner for the U.S. government unit of Accenture Ltd., which underwrote the survey. “Citizen interest in electronically conducting transactions is growing every day. We are on the cusp of an incredible increase in the use of the Internet for transactions over the next several years.”

    When asked what the government’s top priority should be for its Web sites, 33 percent of respondents said security. More than half said the government should move slowly in expanding e-government because of security and privacy concerns.

    Although the government respondents shared the public’s concerns about privacy and security, they ranked security third among their priorities for Web sites. Twenty percent of government employees identified security as the top priority. Making government Web sites easier to use and understand ranked ahead of security.

    “The survey findings suggest that senior government employees may need to pay greater attention to public concern about online privacy and security issues,” the council’s report said. “If they want to ensure that Americans use e-government’s powerful tools, they must do more than post their security policy.”

    As the government moves transactions online, “security has to come along,” said Mark Forman, associate director for IT and e-government at the Office of Management and Budget.

    The poll results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

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