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This article discusses online Privacy and Security Policies which are related to e-government on local Municipal Government. It presents the findings of an exploratory study of various U.S Municipal government Websites and how they may be affecting user information security factors. This research paper also provides insight in some of the contemporary strategies which are aimed at information security and data protection in the local municipal governments in the United States. The research paper concludes that the online privacy statements in the local municipal websites are fair from being complete and standardized. In regard of the privacy risks, the underdeveloped state of online privacy statements has been disappointing to the users.
Privacy and information security concerns in local municipal governments have at most times been known to be barriers towards the full utilization of online services by U.S citizens. A crucial step towards the full utilization of online services offered by the Local Municipal Councils therefore lies in informing the users how their personal information will be handled and protected. From this angle, it is therefore expected that the local municipal governments will make use of their websites to reveal their approaches and solutions to security issues and privacy of online users. For instance, the local municipal governments display third party security seals and privacy statements serve as a way to express their commitment with security and privacy safeguards. There is an increasing amount of initiatives and regulation towards self regulation and standardization which will put pressure on government websites to establish online privacy disclosures.
Online privacy or internet privacy refers to the ability of controlling the type of information one reveals about oneself via the internet and controlling who is able to access that information. Online privacy also refers to the mandate or desire of personal privacy about online transactions or transmission of personal data through the internet. In E-governance, security policies are sets of rules, laws and practices which regulate how organizations manages, distributes and protects people's sensitive personal information. Under internet security concepts, security policies refer to a set of organizational rules which govern the acceptable usage of such criteria like acceptable security practices, information technology resources, best practices guidelines and acceptable operational procedures. On the other side, e-government is an abbreviation refereeing to electronic government and it is a general term which describes the uses of information communication technologies in order to facilitate the operation of government and the disbursement of government services and information (Adell, et al, 2009).
This research measures and conceptualizes E-government in local Municipal Governments in the United States of America and it deals with the variability of the Online Privacy and Security Policies among their websites and how they may be affecting user information security factors. The purpose of this study is therefore to ascertain whether the use of online services offered by the U.S Local Municipal government websites by clients or users maybe affecting user information security factors. In this research, the major interests are the categorization and analysis of the contents of the privacy statements on the e-government websites of local municipal government in the U.S. (Bezzi, et al, 2010). The local Municipal e-governments in the U.S utilize three basic aspects of transactions, information and communication or participation. E-government is one of the fastest growing online activities and about half of all the American people have reported as having used a local municipal government website. Some recent research which was done using two stage models indicated that the use of e-government in local governments in the U.S can improve the confidence of citizens in their government and lead to more trust. However, it was noticed that most American Citizens only turned to e-government when looking up information (63 per cent) while few of them resorted to it to perform online transactions (23 per cent). However, online transactions have not been universally available at both state and local levels (Denhardt, et al, 2008).
To help governments around the world move successfully into the cyberspace, most governments were under pressure to improve the efficiency and quality of public services and therefore they sought the help of advanced experiences in the e-business and e-commerce sectors. Even though people may believe the e-government services offered at the local municipal government, the services can be undermined by online challenges like viruses or spam which could undermine the trust of the internet. The intrusion of the state into personal lives of individuals through data submitted through online transactions like in the case of e-services offered by the municipal governments in the U.S is a violation of Human rights. Privacy, just like freedom of assembly and speech is a basic human right which is recognized in article 12 of the United Nations Charter of Human Rights and in article 7 of the European Charter of Human Rights (Fadlalla, et al, 2009).
The online submission or voluntary disclosure of personal information by users to the Local Municipal governments in the U.S can be dangerous to the privacy of individuals because the privacy can be intruded through the use of public services. Unfortunately, the state can invade people's privacy through public services or even through third parties for security purposes. The state can on the other way round misuse the personal information acquired in the provision of local municipal state services like licenses and information supplied voluntarily by its people. The use of Citizen Surveillance by the U.S state is extensive and growing and therefore, the level of trust between the government and its citizens has drastically reduced. Invasion of privacy by the State normally falls into four categories namely: Watching, Intercepting, reading and interpreting (Ferrari, et al, 2009).
U.S Municipal government websites actually allow for collection of personal data through online collection of web site users' personal information through cookie software and registration requests. It was found out that almost all the municipal government websites collected some kind of personal information from users through registration requests. Some of the personal information collected from users included their names and email addresses which were voluntarily submitted. Almost all the local municipal government websites required online users to submit their personal information before they could access some services from them (Minow, et al, 2010).
Despite the fact that a small number of the local municipal council websites contained a description of their privacy practices, it was found out that many of them included one or more privacy statements in which they promised the users of protection of their personal data against unauthorized access. Privacy policies in the local municipal government websites were found to be underdeveloped and heterogeneous. In some cases, privacy policies contained only a few sentences explaining how the local municipal websites dealt with personal data processing while in some others, some of the websites contained full page documents explaining how the websites would use and secure users' personal data, how the information will be collected through the website and how the online users can be able to object to data collection. Despite these differences, at least in some ways, the websites knew the rules about the users' rights to control the use of their personal information in particular reference to disclosure to third parties(Rawal, et al, 2009).
There exist two basic categories of protection of Privacy in the United States, thus personal and legal. In almost all democratic countries, there always exists some extent of privacy protection which is envisaged in their legislation. One of the types of legal protection resides in freedom of information legislation and data protection. All European Union countries, the United States included are, under the 1995 directive required to have data protection acts. While data protection acts empowers citizens to know the type of data held about them by the state, restrictions are always in place when it comes to security and police matters. The second type of legal protection of privacy is one which entitle or gives the state powers to invade the privacy of its citizens under some specific terms and conditions. These laws are normally applied in countering or combating crime like for instance, terrorism and illegal immigration (Garcia, et al, 2011).
To ensure that they get the users to reveal their personal data to complete a transaction, online organizations and government agencies like for instance the local municipal government go to an extend of posting privacy statements on their websites. Online users are normally convinced by the privacy statements posted on the websites and as such, they believe that it gives them the relevant information concerning the firm's information practices. However, analysis done on about ninety seven privacy statements of local municipal governments depicted that indeed, the privacy statements did not guarantee the protection of users' personal information but instead, they were only used as legal safeguards for the municipalities by specifying how the information collected will be used (Garson, et al, 2008).
The need of e-government which is attained through collection of personal data on individuals on the basis of provision of essential services like voter registration, business licenses and health records have created fears among the U.S citizens about inappropriate use in computer databases of personal information and data surveillance. However, the use of e-government services is two edged because it has both benefits and disadvantages. For instance, the provision of $4 billion dollars by the US Help America to vote Act established in the year 2002 helped the country to overcome problems associated with primitive electoral technologies which delayed Presidential elections in 2000. On the other side of the coin, computer failures have been known to greatly undermine the confidence expressed in the e-government of the local municipal government websites (Gutwirth, et al, 2010).
It is unfortunate that whilst many online organizations use their privacy statements to promise that the personally identifiable information for users will be securely protected, most of them have gone against their promises and released this vital information to third parties for commercial gains. It has now been well established that online organizations use privacy statements so as to avoid possible law suits rather than upholding the information practice principles. Clients using the municipal government's websites would like to know how this organization uses their personal information. Following the demand by users who use the municipal governments' websites in the U.S, it is clear, that they don't trust the Municipal governments' privacy statements (Minow, et al, 2010).
In most cases people who are most affected by the Local Municipal government online transactions are the clients who risk losing their funds through online exchange and having their private spheres penetrated. Most clients fear engaging in online transactions because they highly believe that the privacy of their personal data will be compromised. Clients using online services are denied the right to be able to control how they use and process their personal information submitted to online firms. Risks of identity theft as a result of mishandling personal data by people handling it is also bound to occur (O'Donnell, 2010). Nowadays, personal data have become valued commodities which can be susceptible to exploitation for commercial purposes by individuals who have collected and stored them. In most incidences, online organizations tend to engage their clients through posting of privacy statements on their websites. The availability of privacy protection guarantees on the websites of online local municipal governments is used by clients to assess their trustworthiness. However, the promise by most online organizations is not ethical but rather tactical because they seek to fortify commercial advantage and evading legal penalties (Pagani, 2009).
The variability of the online Privacy and Security Policies among U.S Municipal government websites may be affecting user information security factors because it has been established that the users' privacy rights could be jeopardized since the personal data can be recycled for unknown uses by the local municipal government. As a result of this, users have been reluctant to provide their personally identifiable data and even dropped their intentions of engaging in online exchanges to obtain services from the local municipal governments. But in other cases, the users have overlooked the privacy concerns in circumstances where the use of online transactions (electronic exchange) is more convenient (Rao, 2009).
From studies conducted all over, it has been discovered that not all municipal websites bothered to post to their websites privacy statements and that most of them made no efforts to ensure that their online privacy statements were easily traceably. In other cases, it was discovered that some of the websites emphasized diverging promises and assurances while giving general and vague guarantees. Findings from a survey carried out with an intention of gathering data from a citizen perspective revealed that there was lack of credibility and trust in instances where users failed to get information from the local municipal government websites and therefore they became reluctant of using such systems again. It was also discovered that most of the users were unaware of harmful privacy concerns associated with use of online government services and therefore privacy was not given consideration as one of the factors when using e-government sites. Lack of ICT literacy also affected how the users interacted with the local municipal government websites. (Rawal, et al, 2009).
To improve the protection of individual privacy of users who utilize the local municipal e-government websites, the government should establish a standing body with a broad view to judge and determine what is permissible and with sufficient collective expertise. Such a body should have political legitimacy, authority and autonomy. The body should also be well conversant with the human rights, security, political and risk aspects of privacy so as to be in position to make sure judgments. For instance, a privacy council can be established and have the power to scrutinize and recommend any changes in legislation that is likely to affect people's privacy (Reddick, 2010). Data collection, state surveillance and retention powers must be renewed periodically through a full vote and anti-piracy powers and legislation should never be permanent. This will make the citizens to be aware of the laws and the powers which the authorities can retain. Regular independent audits of routine personal data and reviews used by the state should be done to ensure that retaining any item of data is proved and that any information which is erased, security of data and access controls are made water tight (Scholl, 2010).
Experts propose that privacy statements for online local municipal government websites should be constructed in such a manner that their foci and contents are aligned in accordance with the provisions that are contained in the current laws concerning privacy protection. The local government municipalities should also pay close attention to the significance aimed at making the privacy statements to be easily found on their websites. Government agencies should therefore take the lead in posting privacy statements on their websites and making them to be easily found so as not only to get the trust of their users but to also respond to their ethical duties of informing the online users on how their personal data will be used or handled. Further investigations on the trust in e-government transactions should be conducted (Sobh, et al, (2010).
The solutions for achieving valuable trust-enhancing products, strategies and service which could aid in meeting major cyber trust challenges for e-government should be given consideration. Citizens must be enabled to gain experience with using internet based services so that the predisposition of those who have not used the internet is overcome through creation of a learned level of trust. The trust tension that arises between the citizens' security/privacy concerns and their entitlement to receive effective e-government services from local municipal governments, which require the collection of confidential personal data so as to operate efficiently, should be well managed. For this to be achieved, a good understanding of the cross impacts and relationships between trust and its key major principle aspects of privacy, security and identity should be well established. To enhance cyber trust, guidelines, agreements and frameworks should be established and well implemented through ways which will enhance rather than undermining trust (Tavani, 2009).
The importance of privacy and security for citizen engagement is very vital for the efficient running of e-government in local municipal authorities in the U.S. Although e-government in local municipal governments in the U.S have been known to advance civic participation and democracy, the dark side of this technology is that it can also entail threats to democratic values like personal privacy. A democratic backlash is created when e-governance becomes part of a bigger effort to secure states using information technology as a security strategy. In the American political culture, democracy and privacy remain to be core values. Information submitted voluntarily by users using online local municipal government websites should be well handled in order to maintain a good trust between the U.S government and its citizens. Security policies should be well enforced in all local municipal government websites so that users' personal data is well protected and secured (Varlamis, et al, 2010).
One of the biggest concerns regarding online privacy emerging from the literature is that online users have little knowledge or control on how their personal information was collected. One of the responses to this concern is the online privacy policies. Online privacy policies could serve as indispensable tools aimed at creating consumer trust and informing users about the privacy protective strategies applied by the local municipal websites. Strong privacy standards will give users an assurance that personal informal submitted to the local municipal government websites will not be used and therefore encourage more users to use the online services offered by the municipal governments.