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Privacy problems and e-government

15 May 2009 Inderscience

Local and regional government websites represent a significant privacy concern for the electorate, according to a report published in the current issue of the International Journal of Electronic Governance. However, research suggests that a standard privacy policy could address concerns over fair use of information.

Darren Mundy of the University of Hull, Scarborough Campus, has worked with Andrew Tolley of the Scarborough Borough Council's IT department to investigate whether privacy is possible in e-government on the web.

The term "e-government" refers to the delivery of government information and services via the web, email or other digital sources. UK central government established an agenda for implementing widespread e-government services in 2005 through its document "Transformational Government Enabled by Technology." The rationale for e-government would be to give UK citizens more choice and access but would have to be underpinned by sound ethical and legal principles, such as the protection of personal data.

Mundy and Tolley took a random sample of 54 websites from the 389 in the "direct.gov.uk" domain, among them some of the 239 shire district websites of borough and district councils, the 33 London boroughs, 47 English unitary, 34 county councils, and 36 metropolitan districts.

The first point to strike the team in their analysis of these websites is that a large number of e-government websites do not have a privacy policy on the website. There is, they say, no justification for not posting such a policy, as several e-government sites do carry one and there is no reason not to adapt the content for all sites. However, for those that had a policy there was no consistency between councils, especially in where to find the privacy policy on the site and in the names used to represent it.

Additionally, the team found that many of the privacy policies were inadequate, unclear, and had little technical information that would be important to a user of the site hoping for security. They also point out that there seems to be a lack of knowledge of those running the e-government websites concerning legislation in general, the Data Protection Act, and European Union directives. Information about how personal information is to be used and the use of website cookies is generally unclear, the team says.

"Overall there is no standard," the team emphasises.

To address this problem, the team has developed a web tool that would enable e-government sites to create a workable privacy policy solution via a simple user interface. They have now successfully tested the tool in a local government environment.

"Towards workable privacy for UK e-government on the web" in Int. J. Electronic Governance, 2009, 2, 74-88

 

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