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UK way behind in e-gov plans

We're worried about security - and for good reason

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The UK is lagging Western Europe, North America and Asia Pacific in e-government usage. This is despite the fact that we have a dedicated e-envoy and e-minister, offices full of people surrounding them, and a political party in power that repeatedly say how much e-government is integral to its dream of a connected Britain.

In an extensive survey of 29,077 people in 27 countries by Taylor Nelson Sofres, Britain comes a pitiful 19th in terms of using e-government services, beating only Turkey, Indonesia, Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia, Latvia and Malaysia.

Just 11 per cent of UK citizens have used government online services in the last six months. The average, amongst the countries surveyed, is 26 per cent.

This figure is all the worse when you consider the number of people actually online in each country. Britain comes a disappointing 12th in terms of the percentage of the population online (34 per cent) but does manage to beat the average of 31 per cent. It is the disparity between the two figures that is most worrying.

Britain is the third worst of the 27 countries regarding the difference between those online and those that use e-government services. It is beaten only by the Netherlands (where 31 per cent of the country use government services but 56 per cent of the population are online) and Korea, where 51 per cent of people are online but only 17 per cent use e-gov services.

What is going on? Well, the survey concludes that the main reason why people don't use e-government services is because they are worried about security. It's a fairly close tie-in with those that think government online services are unsafe and the number of people not using them.

For example, the greatest discrepancy in the online versus e-gov figures are for the Korea, Netherlands, UK, US, Germany and Japan. Amazingly, Korea and the UK are the only two countries which don't figure in the study's government security figures - which is very odd and we waiting to hear back from Taylor Nelson Sofres why this is so.

Anyway, Germans are the most unhappy with e-gov security, with 85 per cent saying it is "unsafe". Next is Japan and France with 84 per cent. The US has 72 per cent, the Netherlands has 70 per cent. The average "unsafe" figure is 62 per cent.

Security? What security?
And it's no wonder UK citizens are concerned about security. Last month, we told how a reader had been sent someone's else PIN number for the UK Online site by mistake. The government told us there wasn't a security problem since the PIN had to be used in conjunction with a password.

Fine. Except three weeks later, the reader - Ed Hoppitt - received the same man's Inland Revenue form complete with tax reference, employee reference and other identifying details. We asked the government to explain and were told: "We cannot comment on individual cases, but we have investigated the facts and are satisfied that the security features for the issue of Government Gateway User IDs are both sufficiently robust and appropriate."

Which wasn't what we asked. What we asked was: Why on earth is one man's Inland Revenue forms being sent to a stramger, especially when we pointed out the error to the correct people three weeks earlier?

This elicted a second response: "The normal procedure when receiving mail addressed to someone else is to return it to the sender. All Inland Revenue correspondence has a return address on the back of the envelope. When a department receives this returned mail they stop sending mail to that address and take steps to find the correct address for that individual.

"A user registering with the Gateway is required to supply a password electronically, a accompanying PIN is then generated by the Gateway and sent to the address held on record. If registering to complete online tax information the user is asked to identify themselves by tax reference and one of two other means; postcode or National Insurance number. This information is then matched to records held on the Inland revenue database. These security measures ensure that even if the address details are out of date, an individual's information cannot be dishonestly accessed online as both the password and PIN are needed."

We were then told individual cases could not be discussed but there wasn't a connection between the tax forms and the PIN number.

The government may be absolutely right but it's hardly reassuring is it?

Britain's old lags

Susannah Quick, a director at Taylor Nelson Sofres, said of the report: "These findings show that Britain is lagging far behind many countries in its take-up of e-government. There is a real challenge here for the Government to increase this level in line with other Western European countries. Britain is a country where general internet use and purchase of products over the Net is as high as or higher than many Western European countries, yet this has not translated into use of e-government.

"There are some excellent government websites available in the UK, but people do not seem to be making maximum use of them. The Government needs to explore exactly what people are interested in, and how the benefits of using these sites can best be presented. It also needs to understand whether people know where to find the relevant sites and whether the information on the sites is presented in a user-friendly format."

In fact, we, Forrestor and Eurim have been saying it for ages.

We asked the Office of the e-envoy what they made of the survey and they gave us this response: "The UK is widely recognised as a leader in e-government. The UK approach has been to concentrate on establishing a robust infrastructure for e-government and the UK online citizen portal and the government gateway provide us with world-class foundations for doing that. The approach taken by the UK directly addresses the security concerns identified in the survey. We will put transactional services online when we are confident that they are robust and secure.

"All surveys are open to a certain degree of interpretation, for example how you define the word 'government', many people use local authority services without particularly thinking of them as 'government'."

So there you have it. ®

Related Link

The e-government study

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