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Technology in Governing


Technology's role in government

True to its name, the goal of a governing body is to govern. On a macroscopic scale, this could be described as the management of a population. Like any form of management, there exist hierarchies and formalities in all modern forms of government. This means record keeping and data collection and storage. In many ways, governing bodies are run much like companies and as such, benefit from technological advancements that can improve both efficiency and scope. However, technological advancement can inherently increase the power of a government that has politically gained no capital.

In the United States, technology plays roles in clerical, military, and security work. While citizens are may not understand the specifics of military technology, the average person understands that U.S. defense spending goes towards ever more advanced military technologies, be they satellites, super computers or guided missiles. Likewise, the average citizen can also understand that the government uses computers in office settings in much the same way that a privately owned business or household does. 1)

Currently, the U.S. government is pushing not for faster computers in-office, but for more efficient domestic security. 2) Due to this effort, it could be argued that, at least in the United States, technology's role in government is the fostering of efficiency and comfort among the populace. The flip side of this is that this push for faster screening could also be seen as an indication that technology is a tool to promote legal transparency among a populace. This has potential for abuse.

The FCC's failure to keep up

The Federal Communications Commission is the agency that is in charge of regulating the technology and telecommunications industries of the United States. And yet, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler admitted that the agency's technology is far behind what would be expected in the industries that it regulates. “There is not a business in America that would put up with this,” Wheeler remarked. Wheeler addressed the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees, asking for $13.5 million to upgrade the FCC's “antiquated” technology. “ We just simply cannot go on this way,” the FCC Chairman told Congress. Wheeler expressed his concern over the security of the commission's information to cyberattacks and also the adverse effects on the efficiency that the aging technology is responsible for. “As a result of my being here today … we will see a precipitous increase in the amount of attacks on the FCC website. If we have responsibility for the economic engine of the 21st century, we can't be sitting here … exposed as we are.” It was revealed that there are more than 200 different computer systems owned by the FCC and that 40 percent of its technology is at least 10 years old. According to Wheeler, money will either need to be spent on upgrading the FCC's technology or on the very expensive maintenance costs of the aging technology. 3)

FCC Finds Broadband Lacking

In a report released January 29th 2015, the FCC stated results of an investigation of broadband speeds across the United States. The results were as follows:

17 percent of all Americans (55 million people) lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps service.

53 percent of rural Americans (22 million people) lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps.

By contrast, only 8 percent of urban Americans lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps broadband.

Rural America continues to be underserved at all speeds: 20 percent lack access even to service at 4 Mbps/1 Mbps, down only 1 percent from 2011, and 31 percent lack access to 10 Mbps/1 Mbps, down only 4 percent from 2011.

Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 require the FCC to report annually on whether broadband “is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion,” and to take “immediate action” if it is not. Congress defined broadband as “high-quality” capability that allow users to “originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video” services. 4)

Information's role in government

In the past, governments had a great amount of ability to collect information, data, and evidence from its citizens. As long as governments could obtain legal authorization as necessary, these pieces of information and objects could generally be physically gathered by the government. Technology has had the effect that such information, data, and evidence may be made to be out of the reach of the government. Password and encryption technology has increased privacy, but has impacted ability of governments to access protected information as they wish.

Corporations generally lead the charge in regards to innovation and advances in technology. Consumers have proven to be willing to seek, purchase, and embrace new technological advancements. However, governments generally do not try to push technology forward, but rather fall behind corporations and consumers and are forced to catch up. Rather than being leaders in technology, they react to the innovators in the market. This makes it more costly to update the technology of the government because of the equipment and training needed. There may also be instability and inefficiency resulting from transitions in technology. 5)

Governments also have to deal with the holding of confidential information pertaining to both individual citizens and to the specific country. In general, much of this information has moved to a digital format. While there are positive aspects to this shift, such as convenience and increased ability to backup the information, these very factors help to create greater ability for unauthorized access. It then takes greater care to prevent the inevitable attempts to breach security. Corporations have had many publicized instances of the leaking or hacking of customer information, despite their ability to attract the most talented employees in the field of Information Technology. Governments, on the other hand, have not had the ability to attract as great a level of talent in this area, due in part to the tendency of governments toward being reactionary and not proactive in technology. 6)

Citizens have a certain expectation of transparency in government. They want to be able to have information regarding the actions of the government. With technology, information about the activities, conversations, decisions, and motives of the government and individuals within government can spread far more easily, especially through media channels such as the Internet, email, texting, social networking, blogs, and television, among others. Because of these technologies, it is more difficult for the government to keep these things private. 7)

However, a case can also be made that these communication technologies allow governments to more rapidly distribute the messages of their choice through some or all of these channels. Citizens looking for authoritative messages may gravitate toward the messages provided by the government. These have the potential to give genuine insights to the activities of the government, but also have the potential to be messages incorporating its “spin” on reality, allowing secrecy to be protected.

These factors can lead to the government being vulnerable and make it more difficult to perform the tasks they would like to. Because the government is responsible for balancing the rights of its people in the normal course of life, it must stay involved to be able to govern the conditions that technology entails.

Collection and appropriation of information in government

The government's primary mission

By definition, a government governs. This is understandably vague given the wide variety of governments across the globe and myriad functions a governing body can perform. The specifics of what 'governing' entails are therefore often the subject of debate. It would seem that in the United States, the primary goal of the government is not to manage, but to protect the populace from threats both foreign and domestic. At least, that would be the opinion of roughly half of the American government based on statements made by Representative Mike Pompeo. 8)

While this view can provide a general umbrella of responsibility with which to view the government, it does not accurately describe the various organizations that are maintained and overseen by the federal government. Government websites will confirm that the central mission for the majority of intelligence agencies is the collection of information. 9)

On the other hand, the Department of Agriculture's mission statement is “We provide leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues based on sound public policy, the best available science, and efficient management”.10) While this may sound vastly different from the DoD, technology-wise it involves the same baseline usage. Before any American government organization can act, it must collect information to create a plan of action and justify that action. In this way, the government's primary mission cannot be summarized, but its function can. The government's primary function is to collect data.

Impacts on the ability to achieve this mission

The functions of governments include creating laws and enforcing the laws that they create. Because the private sector is generally responsible for technological innovation and implementation, there are many crimes that can happen within the context of evolving technology. Governments are tasked with challenges in legislating activities related to technologies as they evolve and keeping up with technology in order to be able to enforce created laws related to new technologies. 11)

While in these ways, technology provides challenges for the government, technology also provides opportunities for the government to develop tools and methods to assist in law enforcement. Technologies can be created to assist police, such as GPS and communications systems. Body armor helps to protect the lives and safety of police officers. There are also non-lethal or less-lethal ways to combat criminals, focusing on incapacitation rather than simply harm or death. This also protects police but also the citizenry. 12)

Aviation technology has developed tools such as planes and helicopters that have been used by militaries and some larger law-enforcement jurisdictions. In the United States, a 2007 national study found that “approximately 20 percent of all agencies with 100 or more sworn officers had aviation units, including 44 state police agencies, 76 sheriffs' offices, 68 municipal police agencies and 13 county police agencies.” 13). While aviation technology can be very important in time-critical situations, they can also be very expensive, with many helicopters costing millions of dollars and large additional costs for fuel and maintenance. The development of these technologies have expanded into the development of lower-cost, unmanned “drones”. These sort of unmanned aircraft have cameras and are piloted remotely. This technology is being developed in hopes to finding an effective, cost-saving, mobile surveillance tool for law enforcement. 14)

The area of biometrics technology is one that is also a tool for the government. Biometrics uses unique physical characteristics or behavioral traits for the identification of individuals. These include fingerprinting and facial, eye, voice, handwriting, or signature recognition. This technology can increase the safety of police officers, identify criminals, secure facilities and information, and prevent identity theft. 15) Biometrics has current and expanding implementation in confirming the identity of individuals both in present, physical form and in video and audio surveillance. The implications include law enforcement being better able to identify and track criminals, with a decreased chance of innocent citizens being wrongfully accused of crimes. However, biometric technologies, especially when coupled with surveillance technologies, do and will very likely continue to increase the abilities of governments to track, capture, and store the activities and whereabouts of all law-abiding citizens.

Exceeding this primary mission

National Security Agency Independent Review

With technology often times aiding governments in the collection of information on its citizens, it is becoming increasingly possible for this collection to be considered overstepping the bounds of the government's mission. One of the highly-publicized instances of this possibility relates to the U.S.'s National Security Agency and a recent independent review of this agency.

Late in 2013, The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), a group led by former security officials and academics 16) was tasked with reviewing the practices of the NSA. It found that the National Security Agency’s program of collecting phone records is unfounded in the law and should end. It found that Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act “does not provide an adequate basis to support this program.” The board extensively analyzed the surveillence organization including its legal, constitutional, and practical aspects. The board's 238-page report drew the conclusion that the program raises serious threats to civil liberties, has shown limited value in countering terrorism and is not sustainable from a policy perspective. “We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation. Moreover, we are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack.” 17)

But the board found that it is impossible that the billions of records collected daily could be relevant to a single investigation “without redefining that word in a manner that is circular, unlimited in scope.” It was found that these records required phone companies to disclose generated call data on a daily basis, “an approach lacking foundation in the statute…At its core, the approach boils down to the proposition that essentially all telephone records are relevant to essentially all international terrorism investigations,” the report said. This approach, it said, “at minimum, is in deep tension with the statutory requirement that items obtained through a Section 215 order be sought for ‘an investigation,’ not for the purpose of enhancing the government’s counterterrorism capabilities generally.” 18)

Constitutional issues were also raised with regard to U.S. citizens’ rights of speech, association and privacy. “The connections revealed by the extensive database of telephone records gathered under the program will necessarily include relationships established among individuals and groups for political, religious, and other expressive purposes. Compelled disclosure to the government of information revealing these associations can have a chilling effect on the exercise of First Amendment rights.” 19)

The board reviewed 12 terrorism cases which involved data collected by the NSA and showed that there was very little to no benefit gained by the surveillance program. In these cases, the data was “generally limited to corroborating information that was obtained independently by the FBI,” the report said. The board refuted the often-cited contention that the program would have allowed the knowledge of Khalid al-Mihdhar, an al Qaeda terrorist, being in the United States prior to the Semptember 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. “The failure to identify Mihdhar’s presence in the United States stemmed primarily from a lack of information sharing among federal agencies, not of a lack of surveillance capabilities…This was a failure to connect the dots, not a failure to collect enough dots.” 20)

At the very least in the case of the NSA surveillance program, the harms to society far outweigh any benefits, according to the experts taking part in its review. “The Board believes that the Section 215 program has contributed only minimal value in combating terrorism beyond what the government already achieves through these and other alternative means. Cessation of the program would eliminate the privacy and civil liberties concerns associated with bulk collection without unduly hampering the government’s efforts, while ensuring that any governmental requests for telephone calling records are tailored to the needs of specific investigations.” 21)

“The Board believes that the Section 215 program has contributed only minimal value in combating terrorism beyond what the government already achieves through these and other alternative means,” the report said. “Cessation of the program would eliminate the privacy and civil liberties concerns associated with bulk collection without unduly hampering the government’s efforts, while ensuring that any governmental requests for telephone calling records are tailored to the needs of specific investigations.” 22)

Changes in the nature of information

Impact on citizens

With Internet and other communication technologies ever more prevalent in the lives of citizens, there is an increased expectation of convenience of governmental services through such channels. Citizens often expect to be able to find information and enroll in or change services quickly and easily through the Internet. This oftentimes comes at great expense and difficulties to governments and failure to meet these expectations of the people.

Take for instance the creation of, a website created for U.S. residents to apply for state-run health care. According to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the bill for the information technology for the website totaled $677 million through October 2013. Despite this high cost, there were many problems and experts commenting that the project was “botched” and a “debacle”. There was much spent after the launch of the website, with predictions that the site really cost much more than this in total. While it seems that an exact figure has yet to be calculated, the cost has likely reached over a billion dollars. 23)

Ability to play a role in government

While it is easy for governments to say that they encourage their citizenry to participate in the lawmaking process, it is much different for the citizenry to be a genuine factor in this process. Technology allows citizens to quickly and easily make phone calls or send e-mails directed at politicians. These politicians may or may not actually take the sentiments of the people to heart. There seems to be relatively little evidence of such communications actually having desired effects on the lawmaking process.

There is a project by the Brazilian House of Representatives, called e-Democracia, that allows for participation in the lawmaking process on the Internet. “In Brazil, the Federal Chamber of Representatives conducts an e-democracy initiative that enables people to participate in political decisions regarding legislation. There are forums in which people can discuss and propose amendments to draft bills, vote for surveys to decide on the most important issues and speak their minds regarding legislative activities.” 24) Brazil is one of the largest democracies in the world and now proudly has such an experience that shows evidence of citizens actually having an effect on this governmental process, even if there are times in which this effect is limited. 25)

Patricia Rossini of the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil documented and analyzed the case of e-Democracia that involved citizens providing input for the drafting of the Brazilian Internet Bill of Rights. Rossini concluded, “Even though there are many barriers (social, economical and cultural, to cite some) that need to be transposed in order to reach a greater level of citizenship and deliberation on online public spheres, our case study shows that those who were engaged in the Internet Civilian Landmark’s discussion were able to reach decision-makers and to effectively make amendments to this bill. Although the final decision was top-down, as the representatives had the power to decide on what suggestions they would take into account, they were clearly open to accept amendments proposed.” 26)

The example of the citizenry's involvement in and impact on Brazilian lawmaking is one that surely inspires hope in those hoping for increases in citizens' effects on their governments.

Collection Efficiency in Governing


The United States government has used technology advancements over the course of the past thirty years in attempts to increase efficiency, and control of the different facets that make up government. Record keeping has slowly made the switch from physical copies to data storage on large servers. Also with this advancement, the use of technology in governing has allowed advancements in the collection of information from the people governed. Taxes can now be collected online, and in rare cases, national and state voting has been conducted online through the use of email.

Collection Efficiency

Electronically Filing Federal Taxes

In 1986, the first e-filing of United States Federal taxes took place in three cities – Cincinnati, Raleigh-Durham,and Phoenix. At this time, the system was only able to process returns that were due refunds. This excluded the portion of participants who owed excess taxes. There were only five preparers in the three cities that agreed to participate in this trial. 27)

Over the course of the next four years, E-filing was utilized in more and more metropolitan areas until 1990 when it was released nationwide and 4.2 million returns were filed electronically. Throughout the 1990s, e-filing grew more and more popular, with Congress setting a goal in 1998 to have 80% e-file rate for all federal tax and information returns. Tax preparation software companies such as H&R Block and Intuit's Turbotax helped greatly popularize the e-filing format. These two companies along with CompleteTax, FreeTaxUSA,Liberty Tax, and TaxACT formed the Free File Alliance and teamed up with the IRS in 2003 to make free e-filing software available to most tax payers. Since the coalition between the Free File Alliance and the IRS, there have been 43 million returns filed electronically. 28)

Hurricane Sandy Online Voting

Hurricane Sandy was the most destructive storm of the 2012 storm season and struck most damagingly on New Jersey and New York City, New York. It hit New York City and New Jersey on October 29, 2012 and cut power off to many people in across the region, flooded streets, destroyed houses, and in New York City specifically flooding of tunnels and subway lines.

There was a General election set to happen on November 5, 2012 for presidential, state, and local offices. In order to facilitate voter participation, Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey Kim Guadagno issued a “Directive Regarding Email Voting and Mail-in Ballots for Displaced Voters” that classified any New Jersey voter displaced from their homes as “overseas voters” which allows them to vote electronically, but also must mail in a physical ballot confirming their vote no later than two weeks after Election Day. In order to do this, they also had to include a signed waiver of secrecy with their vote. 29)

This occurrence marked the first time that the technology of electronically casting presidential votes was allowed for non-overseas and military personnel protected under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. Under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, military and US citizens living overseas are allowed to send in absentee ballots electronically through e-mail. 30)

Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center

Another form of collection that has recently taken place is the collection of data regarding cyber threats that may affect the well-being of United States Citizens. On February 11, 2015, President Barack Obama introduced the creation of the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center(CTIIC) under the Department of Defense. According to the White House, the purpose of the CTIIC is to “provide integrated all-source intelligence analysis related to foreign cyber threats and cyber incidents affecting U.S. national interests; support the U.S. government centers responsible for cybersecurity and network defense; and facilitate and support efforts by the government to counter foreign cyber threats.” 31)

The creation of the CTIIC is intended to provide relief for all of the Defense programs currently established so that there is one center with the sole purpose of focusing on cyber threats from data that was collected previously by other organizations. The CTIIC is able to work between the agencies to gather as much information as possible regarding cyber threats such as “identity theft, cyber-enabled economic espionage, politically motivated cyber attacks, and other malicious activity.” 32) Not only does the CTIIC have the ability to work between governmental agencies, but they will also be working as a go-between for private agencies and governmental agencies to insure that there will be a swift response to any possible threat.

According to Department of Defense Defense Media Activity personnel, “The Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center, she added, is intended to fill these gaps, analyzing and integrating information already collected under existing authorities, and is intended to enable centers that already perform cyber functions to do their jobs more effectively.” 33) If this center acts as it is supposed to, there will be a great increase of effectiveness and cohesion between agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI.

With the ever increasing use of the internet across the world, cyber threats have become a very important security issue in the United States, and other countries. There have been many security breaches into the private companies that have come forward to the public and in part, the CTIIC is also looking into these threats to protect the citizens of the United States and help companies acting on US soil to prevent further cyber threats to its citizens.

Further Reading

technology_in_governing_aojb.txt · Last modified: 2015/03/23 10:50 by