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IMS5023 : Information Enterprise Management and Marketing



Week 10

GOVERNMENT RESPONSES

 

 

Part 1 - Issues for the Government

Governments around the world have recognised the obvious importance of the Internet and the information economy and are striving to create regulatory frameworks which update their existing legal infrastructure to cover these new developments. Most are also aware of the potential for economic development based on the new technologies and are loathe to introduce legislation which might threaten their competitive advantage in the new environment.

Within Australia the Commonwealth Government created the National Office for the Information Economy (NOIE) in 1997, charging it with establishing a

"light handed legal and regulatory framework that relies on minimal legislative intervention to ensure that Australia's participation in the information economy is market driven, able to flourish and can meet the growing and varied demands of the market".
The key areas of NOIE's legal and regulatory policy framework included:

This is typical of the range of concerns being dealt with by governments, but there is considerable variation in the strategies being adopted. In the developed world it would be fair to say that Europe is adopting a legislative approach while the US favours industry self-regulation. Australia leans towards the US position but follows Europe's lead in some areas (e.g. the EU insistance on its companies only being able to deal with countries which have privacy legislation in place made the Australian Government revise its position of settling for a voluntary code).

Note that NOIE was split into two agencies in early 2004 - the Information Economy Division (IED) within the Department of Communications IT and the Arts (DCITA) and the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO). According to its stated objectives, IED now "provides policy and strategic advice to the Government on drivers of the global information economy, facilitates legislation, develops policy in relation to issues such as spam and administers a number of programs to help the promote take-up of ICT technology". AGIMO will deal with issues internal to gevernment.

The Australian Government has also established an independent agency for delivering information to the general public and providing them with an opportunity for discussing their concerns. NetAlert Limited (http://www.netalert.net.au/) is an

"independent community advocacy and advisory body established in late 1999 by the Commonwealth government to educate Australians in managing their access to the Internet. NetAlert is committed to the provision of a meaningful internet education program for all Australians that includes a forum for debate and discussion, an information base and a friendly, professional reference point enabling everyone to discuss concerns about internet access, issues and development."
Although it does deal with a range of issues, for example it recently hosted the "Growing Australia Online" conference, one of its major focuses is content regulation.

In the developed world, Australia has been one of the few countries to act on the question of online content regulation, with the Howard Government passing the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online Services) Bill 1999. Briefly, this Bill attempts to introduce a broad censorship regime for Internet content, based on the approach taken with the film and television industries, and in practice it is administered by the Australian Broadcasting Authority. Similar legislation was proposed in the US and Malaysia, however was withdrawn in both cases. Both countries now regard such efforts to be detrimental to the further development of their respective economies.

The Bill met with almost universal resistance from the industry which opposed it on the grounds that it infringes on the right to free speech, current technology blocks innocent sites, it is impossible to implement and the fact that any serious attempt to implement it would impose significant overheads on an already inadequate telecommunications infrastructure. The Government remained unmoved by these arguments, however it did make some concesions based on the last argument, to the effect that if the impact on resources is too great then it will be an acceptable reason for not implementing it.

The issue also highlighted the problems in censoring the Internet and has boosted research by both advocates and opponents, with groups such as Electronic Frontiers Australia becoming very heavily involved. However, the law is now in place and most companies and organisations pay at least lip-service to it.

Internet Industry Code of Practice

As mentioned, in addition to legislation, the Government is attempting to control the environment of the Internet by forcing industries to adopt a self-regulating approach through the use of industry codes of practice. These apply in a number of areas, but Internet service providers (ISPs) are expected to abide by the codes which have been developed by the Internet Industry Association (based on a number of existing state level codes and with ongoing input from the ABA).

The aims of the codes vary according to the area dealt with, but are typical of both general industry concerns and government priorities. They can include:

At this stage, two codes are in force - Content and Gambling - and two others are in draft form - Privacy and Cybercrime. These can be found at http://www.iia.net.au/. While not a code as such, guidelines as to how to qualify for their "Family Friendly ISP Seal" are also available.

Another matter originally dealt with by the code and currently suspended is that of Spam and how to handle it. The industry cannot agree on this and there is a wide divergence of opinion as to what is acceptable behaviour and what is not.

One example of the work of NOIE (now IED) is its examination into how to counter the problem of unsolicited bulk email, commonly known as 'spam.' This work has been ongoing over a number of years, reflecting long-time concerns of the industry, and provides a good example of how NOIE operates. In this instance it initiated a review, consulting with the community and key stakeholder groups on the effectiveness of the whole range of actual and possible counter-measures. In particular they asked for feedback on issues such as:

Following on from the review, recommendations on how to deal with spam were made who the Comonwealth Government, leading the enactment of the Spam Act 2003, which came into force in April. While the basic principles of the legislation are that "commercial electronic messages must only be sent with the addressee's consent, must include clear and accurate identification of the sender, and must include a functional unsubscribe" the Act does go into a lot more detail and is worth looking at. While NOIE was instrumental in formulating policy, its role ends there, and enforcement responsibility for the Spam Act rests with the Australian Communications Authority.

The final report on that process, together with details of the legislation and a range of practical guides, are now available at http://www.dcita.gov.au/ie/spam_home.

 

References - Government and Industry Level Bodies

Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) http://www.aba.gov.au/

Australian Communications Authority (ACA) http://www.aca.gov.au/

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) http://www.eff.org/

Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) http://www.efa.org.au/

Internet Industry Association (IIA) http://www.iia.net.au/

The Internet Society http://www.isoc.org/

The Internet Society - Australian chapter http://www.isoc-au.org.au/

National Office for the Information Economy (NOIE) http://www.noie.gov.au/

NetAlert http://www.netalert.net.au/

NetAlert - Growing Australia Online http://www.netalert.net.au/conference2002/

IED (DCITA) - Spam Legislation and Reports http://www.dcita.gov.au/ie/spam_home

 

Part 2 - eGovernment

In past weeks we have looked at the various categories of information, particularly in relation to the development of online services by both the commercial and non-profit sectors. Last week, when dealing with Information for Accountability, we introduced a number of examples of government departments and agencies which delivered services online, such as the Australian Taxation Office and the Public Record Office. This week, we examine type of services provided by government in more depth, looking at the rationale behind such developments, areas where development has occurred, and the directions in which such developments might progress.

Much of the literature in this area is couched in terms of two concepts:

eGovernment , which can be defined as:

The transformation of public-sector internal and external relationships through Internet-enabled operations and information and communication technologies to optimise government services delivery, constituency participation and internal government processes.
(Di Maio A, Baum C, Keller B, Kreizman G, Pretali M & Seabrook D 2002, Framework for E-government Strategy Assessment , Gartner, Stamford, Connecticut, USA.)

E-Government refers to the use by government agencies of information technologies (such as Wide Area Networks, the Internet, and mobile computing) that have the ability to transform relations with citizens, businesses, and other arms of government. These technologies can serve a variety of different ends: better delivery of government services to citizens, improved interactions with business and industry, citizen empowerment through access to information, or more efficient government management.
World Bank (http://www.worldbank.org/egov

According to the World Bank, the benefits can include ”less corruption, increased transparency, greater convenience, revenue growth, and/or cost reductions”, describing it as “Analogous to e-commerce, which allows businesses to transact with each other more efficiently (B2B) and brings customers closer to businesses (B2C), e-government aims to make the interaction between government and citizens (G2C), government and business enterprises (G2B), and inter-agency relationships (G2G) more friendly, convenient, transparent, and inexpensive.“

eDemocracy, on the other hand, is a more specific subset of the above definitions, and relates to increased participation in the democratic process and increased citizen empowerment. Thus, a government can place its services online without contributing in any serious way to eDemocracy.

eGovernment In Australia, government at all levels started to develop strategies to move services online in the mid-1990s , focussing on agency client service strategies and supply-push initiatives. At the national level, the Commonwealth Government launched its Government Online Strategy - providing a major stimulus for agencies to offer online services to citizens, businesses and intermediaries - and the various state governments also launched similar strategies.

As a result by 2003, when the Commonwealth Government published its E-government Benefits Study (http://www.agimo.gov.au/publications/2003/03/e-govt_benefits_study) it could claim that Australians were heavy users of government services online. That study reported that 46% of citizens and 57% of businesses were already interacting with the Commonwealth government via the Internet, citing the most popular and well-used sites being: Jobsearch, Centrelink, australia.gov.au, and e-tax (for people); and Australian Taxation Office, Australian Securities and Investment Commission, Australian Bureau of Statistics, and Business Entry Point (for businesses). At that stage, it was estimated that over 69,000 brochures, tenders, forms, transactions and other services had been made publicly available online.

That study identified the specific benefits to users as being:

It also identified a number of social benefits, measured in terms of service improvements, community skills and knowledge, and new business or work opportunities. These included:

For government agencies, the primary benefits were considered to be:

In all, it estimated the value of the benefits to users of e-government services at $1.1 billion in 2002.

Government and civil society

The report also highlighted the important role intermediaries play in dissemination information and helping people access government services. Examples included:

However, the trend to outsourcing government services is much further advanced than that brief list would suggest. In this era of ‘small government', many governments are outsourcing service delivery in a huge range of areas, for example health and welfare, to a mix of commercial and non-profit organisations. This in itself raises an entirely new set of problems typically found when different types of organisations try and co-operate, deriving from issues such as differing policy agendas, differing standards, and differing reporting requirements. The recent discussions held by Australian civil society in relation to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) highlighted many of these issues, and a good overview of them is contained in the strategy document produced as an outcome of those discussions – Draft Information Economy Strategy for Australian Civil Society – available from the CCNR WSIS home page at http://www.ccnr.net/wsis/welcome.htm.

Further developments

Among the conclusions of the E-government Benefits Study were that there was a need to focus more on the issues of:

This need has been generally recognised by governments around the world and can be summed up as the need for a more user-centred (citizen-centric) design, and governments in Australia - like other governments in the industrialised world - are increasingly using electronic channels to deliver services. As a result, Australians can engage with government through a number of distribution channels such as one-stop shops and online services. For example, the Commonwealth Government now provides a single unified entry point to all of its services, the Australian Government Entry Point at http://www.australia.gov.au , as well as a number of more specific entry points, such as the Business Entry Point at http://www.business.gov.au, designed to bring government services provided by a range of different departments and agencies together so that the user can concentrate on finding the information and service they need, without having to know the specifics of which agency provides it.

That strategy has been pushed even further in Victoria, where the Government Online Program used the concept of "life events" (services collected according to a significant event, such as moving house, turning 18 or getting married) to organise information within seven channels:

There have been further supplemented by two online entry points — http://www.vic.gov.au with links to all government sites, and Multi-service Express (http://www.me.vic.gov.au ) with links to all Victorian public sector transactions online.

Victoria has recently released a new strategy document, Putting People at the Centre (http://www.egov.vic.gov.au/Victoria/StrategiesPoliciesandReports/Strategies/eGovernment/egovcontents.htm) , to present a new vision for eGovernment and which claims to be a “fundamental re-think about how we can provide better public service to Victorians”. That document describes a vision in which information and services from local, state and federal governments, and the private sector, will be fully integrated, making communicating and dealing with government “more convenient, more relevant and far simpler” than it is now. It is built around four pillars:

And, as stated in the Victorian Government's Putting People at the Centre strategy document (http://www.egov.vic.gov.au/Victoria/StrategiesPoliciesandReports/Strategies/eGovernment/egovcontents.htm), this process has a number of implications for individual agencies as well as governments, including the need for:

Furthermore, as with any good business plan, government departments and agencies will need to improve their understanding of the target market segments, by considering key factors such as:

Other states are following a similar path and of course, the rest of the world is actively developing eGovernment services. The following references are provided as a starting point for further investigation.

Additional References

Balanced E-Government: Connecting Efficient Administration and Responsive Democracy (2001) ( http://www.begix.de/en/studie/studie.pdf ). One of many reports that benchmarks various types of e-government services. This one uses a scorecard methodology to evaluate 12 e-government services from USA, Canada and Europe, assessing them for: level of benefit; efficiency; transparency; participation; and change management.

Bonham, G., Seifert, J. and Thorson, S. (2001). The Transformational Potential of e-Government: The Role of Political Leadership (http://www.maxwell.syr.edu/maxpages/faculty/gmbonham/ecpr.htm) Discusses three types of applications: government to business (G2B), government to government (G2G), and government to citizen (G2C) using case studies from Europe, North America, and Asia.

eCitizen (http://www.ecitizen.gov.sg/) - the Singapore Government entry point.

Economist Intelligence Unit. (2002) The 2002 e-Readiness Rankings. (http://www1.worldbank.org/publicsector/egov/2002eReadAss.pdf) Examines e-readiness indicators and rate 60 countries according to criteria such as infrastructure, regulatory environment and economy, which considers issues much broader than just eGovernment, but which have a significant impact on the capabilities of eGovernment.

Government On-Line and Canadians ( http://www.gol-ged.gc.ca/rpt/2002rpt_e.asp ) - a report on Canadian Government strategies and progress.

myGovernment: The Malaysia Government's Official Portal (http://www.gov.my/MyGov/Home/)

Roadmap for E-government (http://www1.worldbank.org/publicsector/egov/e-gov.final.pdf). Resulting from the Pacific Council on International Policy working group conference, 6-7 August 2001, this report presents ten questions that “are crucial to successfully conceiving, planning, managing and measuring e-government”. Countries represented include Brazil, Chile, China, Denmark, Egypt, India, Israel, Mexico, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

Finally, many conference have also been devoted wholly to these issues. Two held recently in Australia serve to discuss current issues and to highlight thinking around them:

The Australian Electronic Governance Conference 2004. Centre for Public Policy, University of Melbourne, April 14-15 (http://www.public-policy.unimelb.edu.au/egovernance/)

The Business e-Volution of Government Conference, 26-27 May 2004, Canberra (http://www.agimo.gov.au/resources/events/2004/e-volution)

eDemocracy

As I noted at the start of this lecture, eDemocracy, is at once more specific and more open to interpretation than eGovernment. What can be said about it is that it relates to increased participation in the democratic process and increased citizen empowerment and that a government can place its services online without contributing in any serious way to eDemocracy. To make things more confusing, those who promote eDemocracy can mean anything from webcasting parliament to holding direct votes on every issue imaginable.

The vision of the Victorian Government as expressed in the document Putting People at the Centre, gives an indication contains tenatative strategies that are most in line with mainstream thinking, and these suggest that what the governments would like to do is to have their citizens more involved in the policy-making process, but not to see any real changes to the current power relations.

For example, the strategies outlined include:

While this is typical of government thinking on the issue, there are many who would like to see the concept broadened, so that people can use the opportunity to devlop new services capable of giving them more control over their lives.

Whatever the case, it is increasingly obvious that eDemocracy is not easy to achieve. This is highlighted by research such as that by Ainsworth, Hardy and Harley. In their paper "On-line Consultation: E-Democracy and E-Resistance in the Case of the Development Gateway" they report on the use of two online forums developed for the Global Development Gateway, both of which were intended to facilitate participation. They concluded that there were problems in the operations of the forums, suggesting that pre-existing power arrangements impacted adversely on participation in them and on their perceived benefits. It is clear that this work is only just beginning.

For further discussion on the issues relating to eDemocracy, see the following papers from the The Australian Electronic Governance Conference 2004:

Ainsworth, Susan , Hardy, Cynthia , and Harley, Bill :

Hogan, Michael , Cook, Natalie , and Henderson, Monika : "The Queensland Government's e-Democracy Agenda" Young, Graham and Flew, Terry : "If they come they will build it: managing and building eDemocracy from the ground up"


 

Tutorial 10 Week 11

Visit the website Online Opinion (http://www.onlineopinion.com.au), then read the paper by Graham Young and Terry Flew "If they come they will build it: managing and building eDemocracy from the ground up". Do you think that this type of online service either enhances democracy or contributes to the development of eDemocracy? Be prepared to discuss the issues and explain your opinion in next week's tutorial.

(Note that this is the last of these weekly exercises for the year).



 
Tom Denison