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2/26/2002
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Faith In E-Government Tempered By Security, Privacy Concerns

Americans say E-government has a positive effect on the way government operates, but they're worried about system vulnerabilities.

Americans have faith in the potential of E-government, broadly defined to include local and federal government Web sites, as well as technologies that help fight terrorism by improving communications among government agencies and law-enforcement officials and by coordinating responses by health officials in the event of a public health threat. But they're not completely sanguine: They have concerns about security threats and privacy issues, according to a survey released Tuesday by the Council for Excellence in Government, a Washington nonprofit group.

Of the 961 respondents to the study, which was funded by IT integrator EDS, 64% say they believe E-government can have a "very or somewhat positive effect" on the way government operates, by making it easier for citizens to obtain information or services or conduct transactions. That's up almost 10% from a similar survey in August 2000. That's good progress, says Patricia McGinnis, president and CEO of the council.

Yet an equal percentage of respondents indicate extreme concern about government computers being vulnerable to hackers. Sixty-five percent say they're very concerned about identity theft, as various government agencies maintain data on individuals ranging from Social Security numbers to credit-card numbers for those who pay traffic tickets online. Fifty-seven percent say Internet users should forgo some privacy if it serves homeland security, but only 47% like the idea of a national ID card. "We're balancing trade-offs between privacy and security," McGinnis says. "I don't think we've figured that one out yet."

The growing number of potential security threats has prompted a shift in government CIOs' priorities. A survey released Monday by the Information Technology Association of America indicates that federal CIOs are less focused on E-government specifically and more focused on issues surrounding information security and infrastructure. State government IT leaders are placing a premium on security, too. The National Association of State CIOs, which recently released its 2002 Compendium of Digital Government in the States, found that 37 out of 48 states surveyed are developing critical infrastructure protection and disaster-recovery plans to address cyberattacks and other threats to critical IT systems. Information for the compendium, which included the District of Columbia, was gathered between October and January.

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