Security fears cast shadow over e-government

Most Swiss want security guarantees before passing personal information over the Internet Keystone

The Swiss would like more public services to be available online, according to a new survey.

This content was published on August 15, 2003 - 19:04

But three-quarters of those questioned said they would not give out personal details over the Internet unless security were guaranteed.

Most of the 1,000 Swiss adults interviewed by the GfS research institute – 83 per cent – said they would use the Internet for everyday administrative tasks such as registering a change of address or searching for jobs.

Meanwhile, 72 per cent said they would be prepared to vote online: 52 per cent said a definite “yes”, and 20 per cent said they would probably do so.

The Federal Chancellery, which commissioned the survey, said it was encouraged by the findings.

“We are happy about the results,” Hanna Muralt Müller, who heads Switzerland’s e-government programme, told swissinfo. “They show we’re on the right track.”

Voting online

The government is currently testing various forms of e-government. Trials include an e-vote in the town of Anières in canton Geneva in January, and the launch of a website - www.ch.ch - which functions as a virtual office counter.

But the survey showed people would be wary of giving out personal details over the Internet without a security guarantee.

Some 76 per cent said they would only use online public services if there were no risk of exposure; while 60 per cent were concerned federal employees would be able to access their private information.

“E-government is not very common or well known, and people hesitate,” Lukas Golder, who was involved in the survey, told swissinfo. “People who don’t have access to the Internet are especially sceptical.”

Better information

But Golder says better information on how people use the Internet has shown where their priorities lie.

“We see now that the information has to be simple, safe and good quality,” he said. “It’s not about offering something spectacular, it just has to be safe.”

The public’s preference for simplicity when it comes to the Internet should help shape the government’s long-term strategy for its online services.

“People should start with something that is widely accepted and raises no concerns about security,” Golder said.

If these prove popular, more complicated services involving secure information can start to be introduced, he adds.

Public hesitancy

For now, the Swiss public seems hesitant about online administration. So far, only one per cent of the population has used the new e-government website.

But the Federal Chancellery’s Hanna Muralt Müller insists the benefits of e-government are manifold.

E-voting, she says, will make life easier for voters in a country whose direct democracy means citizens are called to the ballot box on a regular basis.

Swiss living abroad will also find e-voting useful, she says.

“There’s not always enough time for them to receive all the documents in the post and send their vote,” she said.

Muralt Müller also points to significant costs savings once e-government becomes established.

swissinfo, Isobel Johnson and Joanne Shields

Key facts

The GfS research institute interviewed 1,000 Swiss over the age of 18 across all the linguistic regions.
Some 82 per cent of those asked said they would use the Internet for everyday personal administration, such as changing their address or searching for jobs.
e-voting also proved popular, with 72 per cent of Swiss saying they would cast their vote online.
But 76 per cent said they would not give out personal details online unless security was guaranteed.

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