Digital Government – Win or Loss of Privacy –

by Kalle Kormann

A the moment we are in a situation where information and communication technologies enter more and more the governmental world - not only for their internal use. In the future we will all be able to communicate - get in contact with the government easier, directly through the Internet. The term E-Government or Digital Government is used to describe this “new way”. The use of such E-Government Services and Systems should simplify and fasten the access to governmental information and data. We can listen, watch, vote, fill out forms, order, request things, get in touch, e cetera with/to our government. The whole body of the state becomes more transparent but also the citizens. All our personal information will be stored; now, everybody could know everything about the others. The information could be used against, for or by oneself or by the state. The question of security and trust needs to be solved, policies that protect our privacy, the control and accessibility of our personal information have to be defined.
With this essay I will talk about the question if Digital Government will increase or decrease the personal freedom belonging to the personal privacy issues. I won’t talk about every aspect of the Digital Government topic, because this would be too much for this essay.

What is Digital Government?

Digital Government is a created term, which is used like E-Government, and Electronic Government, and E-Gov to refer to the usage of information and communication technologies (ICT) in governmental matters.
Digital Government “…has different possible definitions, from online services to any use of ICTs in the public. In general terms, …” Digital Government “… refers to the use of ICTs in government for at least three purposes: providing public services, improving managerial effectiveness, and promoting democracy.” (w1)
“… E-government is defined as providing public access via the internet to information about all the services offered by central government departments and their agencies, and enabling the public to conduct and conclude transactions for all those services. …” (w2)
Mark LaVigne mentioned, in his text “Electronic Government: A Vision of a Future that is already here”, that the main focus of Digital Government is divided into four areas: E-Services, E-Commerce, E-Democracy, and E-Management. Unlike the ISWorld Encyclopedia, it defines Digital Government with one different area. It defines Digital Government through E-Services, E-Management, E-Democracy, and E-Policy instead of E-Commerce. E-Democracy and E-Policy are contextual very close together.

E-Services - Providing Public Services

“E-government opens up many possibilities for innovating and … improving government services. Many governments are working toward providing citizens with access to information and services 24 hours a day, seven days a week from the convenience of their home or office PC. This requires organizing services by the needs of citizens, rather than by the agencies that provide them. E-government might enable a citizen to access the form they need to fill out to order a copy of their birth certificate without needing to know that the Health Department handles the request. Other services that citizens want online include renewing a driver's license, voting on the Internet, filing taxes, and obtaining park information.” (p3) “E-Services refer to the provision of services using ICTs, especially the Internet and the World Wide Web …” (w1)


“Electronic commerce is the transaction of money for government services, or vice versa, government purchasing. People can pay Federal taxes electronically and many states are following suit by beginning to accept online tax payments. … Other forms of government e-commerce underway include online auctions of surplus equipment, renewing automobile registrations, and booking sites at public campgrounds. Processing these transactions electronically may create a more efficient and cost effective method than the traditional paper processes.” (p3)

E-Democracy and E-Policy - Promoting Democracy

“E-Democracy is the political and public participation side of the electronic revolution. It refers to activities that increase citizen involvement including electronic voting, virtual town hall meetings, cyber campaigns, feedback polls, public surveys, community forums, and access to meeting agendas and minutes.” (p3)
“E-Policy does not refer only to the use of ICTs in government settings, but also to the leading role of government in promoting the information society through an adequate regulatory framework.” (w1)

E-Management - Improving Effectiveness

“E-Management refers to the behind the scenes information systems that support the full range of management and administrative functions of a government agency, including integrating data across agencies and governments, maintaining electronic public records and digital libraries, and developing new forms of organizations and working groups.” (p3) It “…consists of the use of ICTs to improve managerial effectiveness, streamline business processes, and cut operational costs …”(w1)

Security and Data Privacy

Through the E-Services the governments collect and use a huge amount of information about their citizens. With this the security and privacy issue arise.
“ Privacy is widely recognized as a human right. Individuals should be confident that information about themselves will be handled fairly. This includes personally-identifiable information in the hands of government agencies. In providing services to the public and carrying out various functions, governments collect and use a wide range of personal information about their citizens (i.e., health records, tax returns, law enforcement records, drivers licensedata, etc.). With the shift towards electronic data management and the growth of the information society, governmental gathering, storing and processing of data have grown dramatically. The introduction of E-Government and the electronic delivery of services have further expanded government collection of personally-identifiable data. A government’s practices in collecting, retaining, and managing personal data about its citizens pose a wide range of privacy concerns. Trust is crucial to the success of any online program, whether in the field of E-Commerce or in the field of E-Government. Privacy and security are in turn key elements of online trust. Individuals will not use services that do not handle personal data responsibly. Therefore, countries seeking to facilitate the efficient online provision of governmental services must protect the privacy of the information they collect. …” (p5)
The security issue of governmental systems is very important; all the sensible information needs to be protected of misuse. But how should a security system work and what kind of technology should be used? - To secure ICT Systems a number of systems were developed like the digital signature, password, biometrical identifier, Internet protocols (SSL, SSH), hardware input devices, and keys.
Belonging to the security issue Paige Anderson is saying: “… The better the security of a system, the more trust that system generates. A system that is highly trusted becomes a very valuable target for fraud. …“(p4)

Future Trends

In the future different existing aspects will be improved and perhaps new aspect will be created for the digital government. The main topics are government-to-government, citizen-to-government, voting, security, and digital divide.
Government-to-government will fall into the E-Management category of the Digital Government. The “…government-to-government use of the Internet holds enormous potential for improving the speed, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of government’s sharing of data and information with other governmental organizations.” (p6)
Citizen-to-government (E-Services) will be used for the “direct” contact with the government. As I have written above it provides different services from signing up for appointments, to fill out and request forms. “… E-Government can help improve government relations with constituents by eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy, streamlining, service delivery, saving taxpayers money, and reducing the ‘fiction’ of cumbersome interactions. … the web can provide a progressive ‘electronic face’ for the governmental agencies …” (p6)
Voting is also belonging to the citizen-to-government category but it has to be viewed separated from the general E-Service, because there are more than only the service issues in play. Security and accessibility (digital divide) are a big issue. Using the Internet for voting will increase in the future the number of participants, but only people with Internet access could vote. Here the digital divide issue takes place. It describes the differential access of the citizens to the Internet. But the security question of for example manipulating the vote results and privacy issues needs to be solved.
“… There are several different elements to security that Internet experts have identified. The first is to ensure that the source of Internet transmissions are in fact who they say they are. If you are trying to pay a traffic ticket on the Web…you need to be confident that your credit card account is not being charged by criminal computer hacker … A second … element of security is to ensure that the data you send are received and are not altered during transmission. … A third element of security is some form of verification that the massage sent has been received. … Last… is the issue of privacy. …Significant elements of the U.S. constitution are devoted to protecting the public from unwarranted government intrusion into their private lives. The Internet and World Wide Web simply complicate the issue by adding an additional method for storing and transmitting information about the public.”(p6) To prevent this intrusion into the privacy S.Cohen and W.Eimicke are writing about three keys to successful security. “… The first is constant improvement and upgrades to stay a step ahead of criminals. The second is that security be visible and foreboding, to drive criminals to easier marks. Finally, we must accept the fact that no security system is perfect and all can eventually be overcome. … A key method for overcoming the obstacles posed by security breeches is an attitude of security consciousness on the part of providers and users….”(p6)


This short description of the Digital-Government and its issues belonging to security and privacy shows that these aspects aren’t really solved. What Paige Anderson is saying (“… The better the security of a system, the more trust that system generates. A system that is highly trusted becomes a very valuable target for fraud. …“) is not wrong. An absolutely secure system has a bigger attraction than a less secure one. But the question should be who is interested in sensitive data, which data needs such a high security system?
A lot of personal information and data are collected for observing the citizens, by different services. Not only from the government also from private or semi-private institutions. There is no real need for collecting a range of data about the shopping habits, the movements of people, and the credit balance etcetera. And if such data is collected every person should have the chance to access them, to read the information about his/herself. Most of them are collected by this semi-private companies. But the government is or will using them to have an image over every citizen. These personal information need to be opened to the public. That means that a way must be found to access your private data and the possibilities of “processing” them. The information are then free but organized by the persons oneself. Every person can do whatever he or she wants with it. I can imagine that a system where every citizen can freely dispose of these data is more accepted and perhaps than demanded by the people. Such information could also help you to define new ways of living or future developments. It is than more like a big database of your life. But the question of security and privacy will ever be.
To find a way that works perhaps better, the idea of “trust” as security for no-sensitive data is in my eyes a good way. The security issue is not beaten with this but I think it is a good beginning. With such a way the openness and availability of information gets bigger and accepted. The companies and the government have than to think about the collected data.
For the “real” sensitive data, which are more interesting for ”thieves”, a good protection is important. But on the other hand, are there really so many “thieves” around such as S.Cohen and W.Eimicke are writing about. Are they really stealing your money or personal data to create “new” identities? Or is perhaps the government the “thief”?
A solution of security for the sensitive information must be developed. But who is defining which data, information is sensitive or not? Here must the development start. A trusted system, which will use security systems the citizen really trust or believe, could come from Open-Source.
I think Open Source Systems are more accepted by the people than others. If the Open Source License of Open Source Applications were better promoted more people would use and trust them. A system, which is built by “the people”, is more reliable than others. If such a system will be developed and the society accepts it, new ways of Digital-Government and Digital-Life will develop. Open, accessible data could be stored for different usages. Important documents are accessible at every time and place of the world. To apply for different things will be easier, because most or all information can be found within some minutes. The way of communicating with institutes and governmental agencies will much more easily.

Not only the citizen will store their data and information in digital space, also the government has to work in it. All the aspects of the Digital-Government are directed to a more transparent governmental-body. The society could access speeches, writings, etc of governmental-meetings. Perhaps the citizens could also be a part of the decision-making. With this transparency the representatives has to think more about their acting. All movements are then really open to the public (are tracked). With this transparency everybody can see if someone looked at or did something with personal information.
To define with this essay the solution for the perfect security and privacy system is wrong. In my eyes new law definitions are needed. Definitions, which are in the first steps so hard, that a misuse of “sensitive” data will be punished really hard regardless who you are. Through this a respect for the usage of others personal data will be created.

For me the whole Digital-Government topic needs to be more and better communicated to the people. Most of the people know that at some day such system will be available, but also most of them don’t really belief in them. The biggest fear is that all personal information are stored and accessible for the government. But on the other side, at this time the government also collect every piece of information about their citizens. To develop more reliable systems and trust, the policies of trust, security and privacy needs to be better promoted and improved. And at the end of this essay I would say, that the awareness of information, the handling with the digital world with all its aspects needs to be implemented as one of the key elements in our education. If everybody really knows how he or she should rate information and data, I could imagine that the Digital-Life becomes more than today a big part in our lives.

Literature (research)


(w1) http://ispedia.terry.uga.edu/?title=Electronic_Government
A definition of “Electronic Government”. (26.12.2004)
The ISWorld Encyclopedia (ISPedia) is a repository for information systems concepts and terms. The goal is to create and maintain an accurate and comprehensive free-content Information Systems encyclopedia. The encyclopedia started in February 2004.

(w2) http://politics.guardian.co.uk/egovernment/story/0,12767,868363,00.html
Article by Patrick Butler, “E-government 'risks wasting millions' “, Thursday April 4, 2002

(w3) http://www.centerdigitalgov.com/
“The Center for Digital Government is…” an american “… research and advisory institute on information technology policies and practices in state and local government.”

(w4) http://www.diggov.org/
“The Digital Government Program funds research at the intersection of computer information sciences and government information services, with the goal of bringing advanced information technology to the government information community. “

(w5) http://www.ctg.albany.edu/
“The Center for Technology in Government develops information strategies that foster innovation and enhance the quality and coordination of public services. We conduct applied research and partnership projects on policy, management and technology issues surrounding information use in the public sector.”

(w6) http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/digitalcenter/
“The National Center for Digital Government is the focus at the John F. Kennedy School of Government for research on information technology, institutions, and governance. The center's mission is to build global research capacity, to advance practice, and to strengthen the network of researchers and practitioners engaged in building and using technology and government. The goal of the Center is to apply and extend the social sciences for research at the intersection of governance, institutions and information technologies.”

(w7) http://www.egovmonitor.com/
E-Gov provides information and articles about information and communication technology.

(w8) http://www.freesoft.org/CIE/Topics/121.htm
SSL/TLS Protocol Overview

(w9) http://topics.developmentgateway.org/e-government
Provides articles, essays, news etc about different e-government topics.


(p1) Jane E. Fountain; “Electronic Government and Electronic Civics”; January 2003; John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Faculty Research Working Papers Series

(p2) Yigal Arens (USC/ISI); Jamie Callan (CMU); Sharon Dawes (CTG); Albany, Jane Fountain (KSG), Harvard; Eduard Hovy (USC/ISI); Gary Marchionini (UNC); “Cyberinfrastructure and Digital Government” [p.4 - 8]

(p3) Mark LaVigne; “Electronic Government: A vision of a future that is already here”; Volume 52, Number 4, 2002; Syracuse Law Review

(p4) Jean Camp; “Identity in Digital Government - A report of the 2003 Civic Scenario Workshop”; Kennedy School of Government Harvard University [p.8 - 28]

(p5) Paige Anderson; “Privacy and E-Government: Privacy Impact Assessments and Privacy Commissioners – Two Mechanisms for Protecting Privacy to Promote Citizen Trust Online”; May 1, 2003

(p6) Steven Cohen, William Eimicke; “The Future of E-Government: A Project of Potential Trends and Issues”; Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs

Wikipedia definitions:

(wiki1) EGovernment
“The term (in all its uses) is generally agreed to derive from "electronic government" which introduces the notion and practicalities of electronic technology into the various dimensions and ramifications of government. …” (25.12.2004)

(wiki2) Digital divide
“The digital divide is a social/political issue referring to the socio-economic gap between communities that have access to computers and the Internet and those who do not. The term also refers to gaps that exist between groups regarding their ability to use ICTs (Information and Communications Technologies) effectively, due to differing levels of literacy and technical skills, as well as the gap between those groups that have access to quality, useful digital content and those that do not. The term became popular among concerned parties, such as scholars, policy makers, and advocacy groups, in the late 1990s. …” (25.12.2004)

(wiki3) Data privacy
“… refers to the evolving relationship between technology and the legal right to, or public expectation of privacy in the collection and sharing of data. …” (26.12.2004)

(wiki4) Information security
“… deals with several different "trust" aspects of information. Another common term is information assurance. Information security is not confined to computer systems, nor to information in an electronic or machine-readable form. It applies to all aspects of safeguarding or protecting information or data, in whatever form. …” (26.12.2004)

(wiki5) Digital Signature
“ … A digital signature is itself simply a sequence of bits conforming to one of a number of standards. It is the generation of those bits, and their interpretation at some later time/place, and the cryptographic protocols and algorithms which used to govern both which give a digital signature bit sequence meaning in contrast to just any bit sequence.
Most digital signatures rely on public key cryptography, and a basic understanding of the principles of these schemes is required to understand how digital signatures work. … “ (26.12.2004)

(wiki6) Secure Shell
“In computing, Secure shell, or SSH, is both a computer program and an associated network protocol designed for logging into and executing commands on a remote computer. It is intended to replace the earlier rlogin, telnet and rsh protocols, and provides secure encrypted communications between two untrusted hosts over an insecure network. …” (26.12.2004)

(wiki7) Biometric
“…Biometrics is the science and technology of authentication (i.e. establishing the identity of an individual) by measuring the person's physiological or behavioral features. The term is derived from the Greek words "bios" for life and "metron" for degree.
In information technology (IT), biometrics usually refers to technologies for measuring and analyzing human physiological characteristics such as fingerprints, eye retinas and irises, voice patterns, facial patterns, and hand measurements, especially for authentication purposes.
Examples of behavioural characteristics which can be measured include signature recognition, gait recognition, speaker recognition and typing recognition. …“(26.12.2004)

(wiki8) Open Source
“…Open-source software is required to have its source code freely available; end-users have the right to modify and redistribute the software, as well as the right to package and sell the software. Software with source code in the public domain meets these criteria, as does any software distributed under the popular GNU General Public License (GPL). Open-source licenses may have additional restrictions, such as a requirement to preserve the authors' names and copyright statement in the code. … “ (30.12.2004)

(wiki9) Open Source License
“An open-source license is a copyright license for computer software that makes the source code available under terms that allow for modification and royalty-free redistribution. One popular (and sometimes considered normative) set of open source licenses are those approved by the Open Source Initiative based on their Open Source Definition. ... “ (30.12.2004)

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