Academic journal article Journal of Information, Law and Technology

Information Sharing in E-Government Initiatives: Freedom of Information and Data Protection Issues concerning Local Government

Academic journal article Journal of Information, Law and Technology

Information Sharing in E-Government Initiatives: Freedom of Information and Data Protection Issues concerning Local Government

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The advent of new information and communication technologies (ICT) has opened the way for organisations around the world to establish new forms of communication with stakeholders. These new forms of communication are based upon electronic means and Web-enabled technologies such as the Internet and its variations (like the Internet and the Extranet). By adopting these technologies, companies are increasingly becoming more available and responsive to their stakeholders, for Web-enabled technologies allow communication in a 24-hour seven days a week basis.

Being responsive is a fundamental issue for governments. Starling (2007) argues that responsiveness for government is more than to merely react to popular demands; it also means that government can take the initiative in the proposal of solutions for problems previously identified. Furthermore, governments seek to improve responsiveness in order to change the popular criticism that most public institutions are bureaucratic, slow, and incapable of taking immediate actions. Starling (2007) also argues that enhancing relationships with stakeholders is crucial for allowing government's prompt acquiescence of popular demands. These relationships comprehend initiatives such as providing information to the public, creating input channels for listening to the public, and improving the quality of public services according to the received inputs.

Governments around the world are deploying ICT in order to enhance the quality of their services as well as their responsiveness. In general, the use of electronic means by the public sector, in particular the Internet, in order to deliver public services in a more convenient and cost-effective way is termed 'e-government' (Holmes, 2001). The boundaries of e-government are not limited to the Internet realm, different authors mention that the territory of e-government covers both the administrative structures of the back-office and the points of access via electronic channels; hence, e-government involves modernisation of back-office procedures as well as modernisation of communication means in order to facilitate the delivery of services and enhance access to government services through increased availability of electronic channels (Dean, 2000; Harman and Brelade, 2001; Hoenig, 2001; Moulder, 2001). The Internet plays a major role in this context and it is changing the way people interact with the government. Public sector organisations are increasingly focusing on e-government initiatives in order to bring traditional services online. E-government initiatives are also empowering citizens and organisations in general to conduct transactions themselves, without the need to visit a government office or speak with a government employee (Sood, 2001).

A critical aspect to be considered is that e-government initiatives are opening or broadening access to government information, as they usually involve information sharing with the public and amongst public bodies. It may be argued that for e-government initiatives to be successful, information sharing is crucial for empowering citizens and boosting services jointly delivered by government agencies or departments (Scholl and Klischewski, 2007). One important issue that emerges from this is that the lack of clear guidance on the legal framework for information sharing might potentially lead to two opposite scenarios: 1. the difficulty for accessing government information might act as a barrier against successful implementation of e-government initiatives; or 2. the open access to government information might pave the way for sensitive data to be shared without prior consent. Additionally, there are also cultural aspects subtly present within the two scenarios presented.

In this article we address the issues above by drawing from the main concerns that central and, more particularly, local governments have when dealing with Freedom of Information and Data Protection issues. …

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