The rapidly increasing extent of government communication via the digital highway calls for better rules and regulations. Access to government information should, for example, be established as a fundamental right. Digital information should also be archived and managed better, and be more secure. These are some of the points Aline Klingenberg makes in her thesis on administrative law norms for electronic government communication. She will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 10 February 2011.
As governments make increasing use of electronic means of communication, it becomes ever more necessary that citizens also have access to such means of communication, according to Klingenberg. The main issue is access to internet. ‘If such access does not exist, communication with the government becomes very hampered,’ she states. ‘This is an impediment to the proper functioning of a democratic society.’ According to Klingenberg, compared with international developments the Netherlands is lagging behind in openness.
The importance of government information needs to be underscored by including the right to access to such information as a fundamental right in the Constitution, Klingenberg argues. She does, however, admit that total transparency is at odds with the right to privacy. ‘It must be clear which information can be posted on the internet by government, seen in the light of protecting personal privacy. Legislation will have to explicitly weigh the interests’, says Klingenberg.
One of the conditions of accessible government information is adequate information management, Klingenberg emphasizes. This implies that the electronic information is at least stored properly. An important improvement would be if the Government Information (Public Access) Act (WOB: Wet openbaarheid van bestuur) and the Archive Act were to be integrated.
The publication of the many confidential WikiLeaks documents clearly shows that sensitive information can suddenly be made public and that therefore citizens must be better protected regarding information storage, Klingenberg says. The WikiLeaks affair proves that government is as yet not fully capable of securely storing information, she finds.
It is also important that government organizations can vouch for trustworthy and secure sending of information. This is even one of the starting points of the legal regulation. The disclaimers on government websites and e-mail messages are in conflict with this and should be removed, Klingenberg feels. The disclaimers often state that the sender cannot be held responsible for any mistakes in the message.
Another important matter is the authentication of messages. Citizens must be certain that a message is indeed from government. The Dutch DigiD electronic signature which was designed for authentication purposes is lacking in several regards. In some cases DigiD is too complicated a way to authenticate, while in other cases it is no way near to meeting the strict requirements of legislation for an electronic signature.
To secure and safeguard the digital exchange of information between government and citizens, Klingenberg finds that a new institution needs to be established that will guard access to government information and provide information on accessing it. The National Ombudsman would be a good candidate for the job, she argues.
Aline Klingenberg (Emmen, 1971) studied Dutch law at the University of Groningen and will be awarded a PhD by the Faculty of Law on 10 February 2011. The title of her thesis is ‘Bestuursrecht, e-mail en internet. Bestuursrechtelijke normen voor elektronische overheidsinformatie’ (Administrative law, e-mail and internet. Administrative law norms for electronic government communication). Her supervisor was Prof. L.J.A. Damen.
Aline Klingenberg, tel.: 050 - 363 68 93 (work), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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