Administration unveils plan for safe digital government

Administration unveils plan for safe digital government

The Clinton administration unveiled a tool kit Tuesday designed to help agencies implement a directive to provide more of their services over the Internet without sacrificing security or privacy.

On Tuesday, the administration released "Access With Trust," a comprehensive booklet detailing how the federal government can promote and use "public key infrastructure" (PKI) systems to protect electronic interaction both internally and externally. A PKI is a sophisticated encryption system using digital signatures that assures electronic information is protected while being entered, during transit and when stored in a computer.

Vice President Al Gore's Access America manifesto instructed agencies to go digital by increasing citizen and business access to government services via the Internet. Some federal officials have expressed concerns about security and privacy issues raised by the effort to move federal services online.

"Access with Trust" is designed to show citizens and government officials that PKI can work in government, according to Andrew Boots, a privacy and security expert at the National Partnership for Reinventing Government.

The report describes 26 agency efforts to develop PKI systems. The Commerce Department's Patent and Trademark Office, for example, has been working to use digital signature technology to improve its Electronic Patent Application Filing System. The Defense Department's Defense Information Systems Agency will use a PKI to ease the coordination of travel.

Richard Guida, chairman of the Federal Public Key Infrastructure Steering Committee, said he hopes senior executives will read the guide and decide that PKI is the way to solve their problems.

Guida conceded, however, that the PKI "gestation period" is continuing. "PKI is never going to gel until you apply a stimulus to it," he said. "You have to exercise the muscle in order to make it grow stronger."