As e-gov plans progress, questions arise over national security

E-government can be a powerful tool to unite citizens and government, but terrorists and U.S. dissidents can wield it as a dangerous weapon if it is not adequately protected, experts said Wednesday.

The Internet affords opportunities for government to create an "enlightened democratic electorate," and it could "change the world significantly," Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Penn., told attendees of an Adobe Systems e-government breakfast. Although the federal government has made progress on e-government initiatives during the past few years, since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, "I noticed we have a the United States with security," Kanjorski said.

Because of national security concerns, questions have arisen over the public's access to certain federal government information online.

"I think we have to put that into the calculation of what we do now, unfortunately," Kanjorski said. "It does strike a question as to whether we can move as quickly as many of us had hoped" on various e-government initiatives.

Kanjorski said the government must find ways to bridge the so-called digital divide and recognize that e-government is more than simply publishing forms online.

But the administration is forging ahead with its 24 e-government initiatives that are part of the president's management agenda--which aims to use technology to increase government efficiency and decrease paperwork burdens.

"This is not a technology issue--this is connecting citizens to the government ... The technology is an extraordinary enabler," said the government's chief technology officer, Norman Lorentz.

Some have questioned whether e-government initiatives will receive adequate funding given the budget deficit and increased requests for money to fight the war on terrorism. But Lorentz stressed that the point of the initiatives is to streamline agencies' technologies and processes, thereby reducing costs.

To secure online information at the same time it seeks to disseminate more of it, the administration is looking into e-authentication techniques as one of the 24 initiatives. Lorentz said a lack of standardization is a major cause of security gaps.

"We're going to take a consistent approach to security and access," Lorentz said. "There's always going to be this dynamic tension between openness and the security of the country."

Lorentz said since January, he has tackled various homeland security technology initiatives, e-government initiatives and cybersecurity issues with the Office of Management and Budget and President Bush's cybersecurity adviser, Richard Clarke. He said that throughout all of these issues, "There will be significant partnerships" with the private sector.

Joiwind Ronen of the Council for Excellence in Government said it is incumbent on federal lawmakers to become more tech savvy, given the familiarity the younger generation now has with technology. Citizens increasingly will expect more in-depth government information to be online and for lawmakers to understand the power of technology.

Ronen also hailed efforts by lawmakers such as Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., to introduce e-government legislation urging the government to fully fund initiatives to propel the government into the 21st century.