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Clark, Eugene --- "Book Review - E-Government and Its Implications for Administrative Law, Regulatory Initiatives in France, Germany, Norway and the United States" [2001] JlLawInfoSci 21; (2001) 12(2) Journal of Law, Information and Science 288

E-Government and Its Implications for Administrative Law, Regulatory Initiatives in France, Germany, Norway and the United States


T.M.C. Asser Press ISBN 90-6704-141-6l

PRICE: EUR 55.00/USD 51.00 /GBP 35.00

Written by specialists from different countries, E-Government and its Implications for Administrative Law provides an overview and analysis of legislative developments in France, Germany, Norway and the United States. In providing an in-depth analysis of the legislative projects in the various countries, the authors give us a glance at the differences in policy making in various countries as well as the lessons that can be learned for future regulatory projects to amend administrative law for the digital era.

In the case of France, the authors note that progress in bringing French Administration into the Information Age has been slow. They conclude that both a cultural/political shift as well as additional resources will be required: “This does not preclude such a development in the future, of course, but the French administration is renowned for its reluctance towards organisational change and innovation. It is presumed that very strong political incentives will be needed in this respect.” (p. 13)

Regarding Germany, the authors conclude that “ electronic communications have not yet been the subject of specific legal stipulations except for two state-laws that have no practical relevance. At the same time, review of administrative communication and procedure is generally exempt from formalities and there has been open in theory and practice to electronic communications.” Apart from financial restrictions, concerns about the authenticity and integrity of electronic communications, as well as privacy issues and general uncertainty about the legal situation are seen as impediments to their more widespread adoption by government. (p. 40).

Norway seems to be more advanced in its development of e-government with the Internet increasingly being used to communicate with citizens and with business. Norway has had proposals for wide scale reform of its Public Administration Act as part of a wider legislative reform project aimed at removing the legal obstacles for electronic communication in all areas of law (p. 74)

In their study of progress towards e-government in the US, the authors focused on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the US Patent and Trade Mark Office. Up until the 1990’s the advent of new technologies was used primarily to improve internal processes. However, in the last few years, the growth of the Internet has led to the adoption of a more client-oriented, external focus. The Internet is increasingly be used not only to provide passive information but for interactive and integrated digital services such as electronic filing, online applications, paperless acquisitions of electronic government services and tailoring of information to the public. This progress is being driven by the desire for practical solutions across a wide variety of administrative regimes and by policy dictates about paper reduction and e-government. Different government agencies in the US have appeared to deal with electronic communications on an almost ‘ad hoc’ basis, while expecting the eventual emergence of general legal rules governing the legitimacy of purely electronic communication (p. 116).

To this writer at least, this snapshot of four countries and their progress on administrative law for e-government shows a number of things.

1. Australia appears to be more advanced than most in recognising early-on the important policy goal of developing a legal infrastructure conducive to e-government and e-business.

2. E-government won’t and can’t happen in the fullest sense unless we provide the legal infrastructure that resolves concerns about document integrity, privacy, security, and so on.

3. Different legal systems have to approach these problems in ways that reflect the unique blend of law, politics, and culture of that particular country.

4. At the same time, as electronic transactions increasingly involve multiple countries, it is in everyone’s interest to learn from each other and seek, as far as possible, to have an integrated and perhaps even a unified system of regulation.

5. When one sees how other countries are struggling with these issues, it becomes apparent that in the development of E-government, the Australian legal system has been a leader with its Electronic Transactions Act, development of PKI, Cyber Crime legislation, Customs reform and other legal infrastructure.

6. Also positive has been the way in which policy, legal, management, technical and client issues have been tackled in a convergent way-as they must-to make e-government happen. The leadership and coordinating role played by NOIE and other arms of government has also been pivotal.

7. Australia is fortunate, too, that increasingly government and business are increasingly playing by the same rules and finding it in their mutual interest to solve the problems such problems as privacy, security and integrity of transactions. In its march to e-government, Australia, like the US, has benefited from an intense interaction of public and private sectors.

While much has been achieved in the move to e-government, this book makes it clear that all countries have a long way to go. It is also clear, that there is much that countries can learn from each other. This work by Prof Dr Prinz and her colleagues makes a valuable contribution to this task.

Dr Eugene Clark, Professor of Law, University of Canberra

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