E-signature hurdles stymie full-force gov't portal

Fewer than 100 of the 1000 government services catalogued on the government's forthcoming portal will be able to be used totally online.

Fewer than 100 of the 1000 government services catalogued on the government’s forthcoming portal will be able to be used totally online.

Most will stop at the point where a signature is required, acknowledges e-government unit head Brendan Boyle.

Legal recognition of electronic signatures is a feature of the Electronic Transactions Bill, which is mired in a welter of legislation for whose slow progress every party in Parliament seems to be blaming others (see No e-legislation till after election).

An example is the process of registering a company. The website takes the user through the process to the point of printing the form out and signing it. It must then be posted or taken into the Companies Office and the signature verified.

An electronic authentication approach for e-government services is still under discussion. The unit has undertaken to report back to cabinet by June next year with firm proposals. Several alternative approaches are being floated at present, Boyle says, balancing the inconvenience of over-elaborate sign-on procedures for simple and non-confidential services with the desirability of an overall single sign-on.

A single sign-on at the portal, which will be formally launched on July 18, would include fairly complex authentication but would then enable the citizen to use any available service without further identification. Boyle agrees, however, that if such an approach is adopted provision will have to be made for unauthenticated portal access for people who do not intend to do anything requiring authentication in that session. At the other end of the scale is a model where each agency decides what level of authentication is required for each of its services.

Boyle says that although not all government services will be available fully online, “agencies will be able to see which services are being hit most often, and this will help them prioritise their further development”.

The emphasis in the portal will be on simplicity: the home page will be purely text and will be less complex than drafts shown to sample users earlier this year. Feedback led to some choices being removed to lower levels of a navigation hierarchy.

In the early days of the e-government initiative Boyle said the government portal might have to take some graphics tricks from the private sector “because we’re competing for attention with Yahoo and the like”.

“People will undoubtedly compare the appearance of our site with others,” he says now, “but at the end of the day they’re conscious of the fact that they won’t be going there to be entertained. They will just want to go in quickly, get information or perform a transaction and get out.”

The portal will be accessible from July 15.

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