Friday, February 08, 2008

eGovernment in Hong Kong

In his talk on Wednesday, Joeson Wong, a postgraduate researcher at UNSW's Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre, discussed eGovernment policies in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has a Personal Data (Privacy) Ordnance (PDPO). It has a Digital 21 Strategy, which started after the 1997 Asian financial crisis and was revised in 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2008.

Joeson discussed the lack of a commonly accepted definition of what e-Government is and argued it is a new concept, multi-disciplinary and there are cultural differences in different countries. He distinguished between internal government processes and external interaction with the citizens effected by e-Government.

Initially the HK strategy was to put government information online, then provide government services on-line. The strategy then moved to quality and effectiveness, including efficiency of government processes. There is no aspect of community consultation or e-democracy in the strategy.

Since 2007 free WiFi hot spots have been installed. WiFi cameras are being installed in the MTR (Metro). Digital surveillance cameras are being installed in public housing estates (with records being kept by the housing authority). This seemed to stray from the topic, but Joeson seemed to be saying that the surveillance was being done under the cover of the e-Government strategy.

HK has a new government portal and new proposals to "review" (close down) non-online services. Joeson raised the issue of how citizens who are unable, or unwilling to use on-line services will cope. In Australia, one way this is addressed is via public libraries with web access. Another option popular in Japan and China is the use of mobile phones. New web appliances, such as those from ASUS built into a TV, may make a difference.

Digital smart card based certificates in Hong Kong have not been successful, after 10 years, with loss of 1.5 billion HK dollars lost. The project is being transferred to a private company after being run by the Post Office. Australian had a similar problem, but on a smaller scale, with Australia Post having a failed digital certificate service.

Joeson argued that eGovernment initiatives should be examined from a privacy perspective, with European style privacy principles.

As with
Martin Backes' talk, I thought Joeson's analysis suffered from the assumption that "Government" was a useful quality label for online services. Services may be provided by government, by non-profit organizations or by for profit companies. All of these need a way for customers to assess the quality of the service and to be consulted on what should be provided.

One way to look at e-Government might be to examine the administration and provision of services for cluster housing, such as apartment buildings. At this level important services are delivered to citizens by a mix of government, non-profit and for profit organizations. A comparison between Australia, Germany, HK and China would be useful.

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