E-governance refers to the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) on behalf of the public sector to provide services to citizens, according to UNESCO. With the spread of computers and---most importantly---the Internet, it is possible for governments to provide online information, as well as offer services, such as electronic tax return and visa application, through secure Web pages. However, despite its immense potential, e-governance also faces serious challenges.
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Convenience and Cost
It is more convenient to pay your bills or apply for disability benefits when sitting in front of your computer instead of going to the closest relevant office and waiting in line until someone can deal with your case. This is especially crucial for remote or densely populated areas. In addition, there are cost savings in operating a virtual agency instead of renting (or building from scratch) an office and paying for all of its utilities. A notable example are the Virtual Presence Posts (VPP), operated by the Office of eDiplomacy of the U.S. Department of State. VVPs are websites offering U.S. citizen services, business and immigration information, and Web chats with consular officers
Transparency and Less Bureaucracy
When official policies and legislation are uploaded on the Internet, it is easier for analysts and the general public around the country to evaluate and debate government decisions. This guarantees a level of transparency and freedom of information, effectively preventing corruption. In addition, e-governance means less bureaucracy, as digital information can move instantly from one liable office to another, without the need to wait for paper documents.
Despite the efforts of government agencies to ensure the safety of citizens' personal data, e-governance websites are still liable to attack from hackers. Personal data can range from name, surname and home address to credit card and bank account numbers. The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) has addressed the issue, stressed the sophistication and perpetration of cyber crime, and asked citizens to be vigilant during their online transactions with official agencies.
An efficient e-governance system requires all citizens or at least the vast majority to have access to the Internet. Therefore, Internet-enabled devices, hardware such as routers, and a connection infrastructure are essential to connect to government websites. In addition, public sector agencies need advanced servers and security systems to cope with vast amounts of information and complex cyber threats. All these requirements constitute a costly investment, far beyond the reach of less developed economies.
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