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Bush signs e-government bill

US president George Bush has passed a bill designed to simplify and streamline government information and services on the Internet while protecting citizens' privacy.

The E-Government Act of 2002 establishes standards, funding and oversight protections for online government services.

"This bill tries to focus on the efforts of reinventing the government in the Internet age," said Ari Schwartz, associate director of the Centre for Democracy and Technology (CDT), a civil liberties group.

The law, originally introduced by senator Joe Lieberman and Conrad Burns, is being seen as a first step in creating a standard government presence on the Net.

The extensive legislation includes establishing a position within the Office of Management and Budget for an e-government administrator. It also authorises an e-government fund of $45m (£28.1m) for 2003, increasing to $150m by 2006.

The law requires each federal court to establish a Web site where its decisions, rules and docket information are accessible. It also requires regulatory agencies to ensure that information they publish in the Federal Register is available on the Web.

The act also contains sections on establishing standards and interoperability between government sites.

"The federal government has had uneven success in applying advances in information technology to enhance governmental functions and services, achieve more efficient performance, increase access to government information and increase citizen participation in government," Congress wrote in its findings when creating the legislation.

The new regulations aim to rectify the government's patchy record over moving its information and services online.

The law "brings government into the information age", said White House spokesman Jimmy Orr.

The legislation also includes significant privacy protections, such as requiring government agencies to conduct privacy impact assessments before developing and procuring information technology or initiating collection of personally identifiable information.

Rights groups such as the CDT feel that the government's adoption of stringent privacy protections will further their adoption. The act calls for government sites to have machine-readable privacy notices on their sites, such as those specified in the Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) standards.

Although the act includes protections, Schwartz, who worked with legislators on the privacy provisions, warned that oversight was still needed.

"It's going to be a slow process because it means rethinking how the government presents itself," Schwartz said.

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