U.S. becoming a land of e-citizens

So many American citizens are demanding access to government services online that a Web presence is now necessary for government bodies at all levels in the United States, according to a study released Thursday by Pew Internet and American Life Project.

According to the study, 68 million American adults have used government-agency Web sites, a 70 per cent increase from 40 million two years ago.

Users principally go to government Web sites to get recreational and research information on available services, download government forms and research public policy issues, according to the study. Increasingly, Government Web sites are used for more than personal needs, and there is evidence that a new e-citizenship is taking hold, according to the study.

In particular:

    42 million Americans have used government Web sites to research public policy issues.23 million Americans have used the Internet to send comments to public officials about policy choices.14 million have used government Web sites to gather information to help them decide how to cast their votes.13 million have participated in online lobbying campaigns.

The Internet benefits the democratic process, with 60 per cent of government Web site users saying such sites had improved their interactions with at least one level of government. Citizens would like to be able to carry out more transactions, be offered more information, and have faster access to the Web sites, according to the study.

The Internet will also change the way governments operate, by forcing government departments to be more flexible and entrepreneurial, according to Thomas Riley, chief executive officer of the London-based Commonwealth Centre for Electronic Governance (CCEG).

In presentations to government bodies and universities, Riley has emphasized that the Internet is causing a shift from representational democracy to participatory democracy.

“The increasing numbers of new and innovative information technologies coming into the marketplace is changing the way government not only delivers services to the public but also administers itself,” he said in a recent presentation. “This, in turn, is creating an interactive citizenry that is increasingly expecting more from government in the way of high tech solutions and ease of access to, not just government services, but means to communicate with government on a wide range of issues.

If e-government plans are successful, this will lead to a new form of networked government, which supersedes traditional informational monopolies and hierarchies, Riley said.