Universal Service To Universal Access
© 1995 - International Research Center
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ELECTRONIC DEMOCRACY AND ACCESS TO GOVERNMENT INFORMATION
With one simple click of the mouse, one is granted rights of citizenship into a virtual community of individuals that spans the globe. As the Internet, including the World Wide Web and the various online services available today, has grown, so, too, has the ability of the individual to participate in discussions on issues of regional, national, and even global importance without the usual constraints which have traditionally limited meaningful discourse among groups of individuals (cost, distance, ease of communication, geographical barriers, etc.). We cannot fully appreciate at this moment the impact this revolutionary way of communicating ideas will continue to have on reasserting the true creative and expressive potential of the individual in our democracy. The freedom of individuals, without regard for class, nationality, or ideology, to express their viewpoints, is an essential part of the Internet and the online community. Such freedom stands in sharp contrast to the "group-think" of recent decades that was perpetuated by those who still believe in a top-down "Washington knows best" attitude. The ability to engage in an electronic forum on flat taxes, welfare reform, term limits, or virtually any other issue of importance to an individual or group of individuals is helping to overcome the once wide gap between Washington and the American people.
--Newt Gingrich, Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives in Boardwatch, December, 1995
The foundations of effective democracy are built on an informed citizenry, empowered to express their views and offered the opportunity to interact with and perhaps influence the policies of their government. The Federal and state governments act as enormous repositories of information that they collect and generate. Tradition and law mandate the availability of this wealth of data and electronic access is coming to offer the most versatile, logical and cost-effective means of delivery. The Federal government has undertaken with visionary zeal the development of a National Information Infrastructure and initiated efforts at all levels of government to reengineer itself and provide citizen services via advanced information access programs. A wide range of coordinated efforts and already successful programs are underway as detailed in Appendix B - Telecommunications Policy Resources.
The web transformed the Internet from an often difficult and confusing search for information to an entertaining and rewarding journey through a wealth of material in what amounts to a global electronic library. And it brought the government - both federal, state and local - into its embrace. It's hard to find a federal office, state capital, or even a city that isn't represented on the Internet. Government may fall short in many areas, but in cyberspace it has delivered with a comprehensiveness and enthusiasm that wins applause across the country. That information would cost a lot of money if you tried to get it from other sources, so there's a lot of value out there.
--James Evans in Government Technology, November, 1995
Many states have undertaken similar initiatives to develop an Internet presence and deliver a broad range of information and services through this new medium. Almost all the states have home pages as an entry point for citizen access. An estimated 36 states have Legislative home pages and about 20 offer legislative tracking, if not the full text of laws and bills. (Source: Government Technology, December, 1995)
Arizona state government has provided an official home page for some time. A number of state departments have their basic mission and contact information available and depth of content continue to slowly develop. The Arizona Departments of Commerce and Education have the most advanced scope of services on the World Wide Web at this point, but the Arizona Corporation Commission's STARPAS dial-in service is most indicative of the depth of public record access that should soon develop.If you think of what government does, it is often the collection of information, the recording of official information, and the compilation of statistics. Yet much of what is collected and maintained by government just sort of sits there in primitive records that are sometimes accessible electronically. Yet the government is often protective of information because, certainly within the departments, there's an awful lot of turf protection in the data they collect. If government took its role as one of making information available and providing accessibility, we would see a lot more confidence by the public in government.
What was clear was that for a new generation of leadership, public accessibility is part of regaining trust. In my experience as a legislator, when I went online, I immediately got a lot of e-mail from people saying it's about time, this is overdue, we've used this at work for 10 years, I'm so glad that I can contact you as a constituent. Many of them are people who probably would have never written a letter, gotten a stamp or gone through that whole process. Yet, they wanted to feel like they could be in touch and I had a wonderful experience with that.
-- Earl Baker, former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, VP of Unisys Corporation, in Government Technology, December, 1995
Notably, former Arizona Representative Sam Coppersmith, with the aid of ASU and ASPIN, was the first member of the U.S. Congress to go beyond e-mail to provide positions, surveys and constituent services on the Internet. The Arizona Legislature is planning an extensive World Wide Web presence for the 1996 Legislative Session. They should utilize the Governor's Office of Telecommunications Policy and the Department of Administrations Chief Information Officer to determine the range of information resources provided by other states and how they are funded, managed and delivered. And with this information, determine how best to provide encouragement or mandate that the divisions of Arizona state government move forward in the electronic provision and citizen access to public information and records.A popular government, without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.
-- James Madison, 4th President of the United States, 1822
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