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dg.o Web

Director's Note

Defining Digital Government

From DGRC Co-Director Judith Klavans:

E-voting is but one of many technologies related to Digital Government, but it is the one that hits every single member of a democratic society.

The latest dgOnline news stories cover some of the key technical and social questions raised by the e-voting controversy, including ways to improve voting accuracy, techniques to ensure privacy, approaches to guaranteeing quality of service, and access to voting for the differently-abled

How does the question of e-voting fit into the larger Digital Government picture? As co-director of the Digital Government Research Center, a joint effort between the University of California's Information Sciences Institute and Columbia University's Department of Computer Science and Center for Research on Information Access, our goal is to promote emergent information technologies by creating partnerships among government, industry and academia. We bring expertise in a range of technologies including databases, metadata, data mining, and user interface design. By working directly with government information technology needs, we can tailor research to provide targeted solutions to the needs of government at all levels.

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Translating these needs into concrete projects, and then weaving the results of these projects back into working systems for government needs can be seen in both the short and long term. Already the results of National Science Foundation funding in the Digital Government program can be seen at the local, state and federal level. Examples of this will be presented at the upcoming dg.o 2002 Conference, to be held in Redondo Beach, California in May.

Digital Government can be defined as any government process which can be carried out in digital form. This could range from the simple act of filing forms for renewal of a driver's license, to the complex process of starting a new business. It includes submitting information via the internet, as well as processing information with a computer. The minute that a government function, at whatever level, moves from paper to computer, it moves beneath the Digital Government umbrella.

Defining Digital Government in such a broad way has some advantages, but it also has a downside.

The advantages are clear: any ways to improve the laborious and often error prone process of moving from paper to machine are a welcome addition to the Digital Government effort. After all, what citizen would not want to have more accurate social security records, better access to the wealth of government information, or better privacy protection for all records? What citizen would want to exclude a part of the population from obtaining help that our government offers? What citizen would not want a more efficient and thorough way to track the comings and goings of residents and visitors to the United States? Or of applications for pilot licenses? Or of applications to transport explosives? At the same time, tracking without privacy protection comes close to the issue of basic civil rights. And furthermore, going digital means raising the risk of increasing the digital divide.

Defining Digital Government in a narrow way is arguably not possible, especially in this day and age of digital pervasiveness. The most narrow definition might claim that Digital Government means the most specific of government functions, but it is not clear where to draw the line.

It is in the spirit of inclusiveness and breadth that we focus dgOnline coverage this month on e-Voting. The problems of e-voting are by definition broad, and all angles must be covered. This includes technologies for efficient voting, as well as social questions.

Our stories on e-voting issues are only a start, but exploration will continue. The next place to look will be the dg.o conference where this and other Digital Government projects will be presented.

Our ultimate goal is to use technology to improve government services and functions, whether this is called Digital Government (as we do) or not. All progress to this end will make the world a safer and more inclusive place, and will support the democratic system, be it for e-voting or other functions. We hope you enjoy this issue, and hope that these articles contribute to the larger goals of Digital Government.