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Editorial: E-government needs to be easier, safer

State governments have a plethora of services and information available online. People want it. They need it. Pew Research finds that approximately one-third of U.S. adults reported using an app or the internet to access information provided by their state government in the past 12 months.

Availability isn't enough, however, and people too often can't get to the information or services easily, based on a new report by Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. The conclusion is that citizens deserve better.

Authors Daniel Castro and Michael McLaughlin noted in their Aug. 27, 2018, report that every state can significantly improve the web experience.

Upper Midwest states aren't the worst, but they certainly aren't the best. According to this study, Virginia, Idaho, Massachusetts, Georgia and Colorado perform the best, while Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Nevada and Oregon perform the worst.

Overall placement for Minnesota, Wisconsin and surrounding states and their scores are:

  • 7. Michigan 75.5
  • 11. Iowa 74.6
  • 15.Minnesota 72.7
  • 26. North Dakota 70.3
  • 28. Wisconsin 69.5
  • 36. Illinois 65.8
  • 44. South Dakota 63.4

The report looked at 400 state government websites for driver's licenses, taxes, vital records, elections, business registration, fishing and hunting licenses, and traffic citations.

The researchers assessed these using four criteria: page-load speed, mobile friendliness and accessibility, plus security. For the average person, the first three criteria touch on the key reason for government websites' existence — public access to data and e-government services.

Accessibility (as opposed to availability) is a pervasive problem, however.

First, pages take too long to load.

Minnesota's score for 67.3 out of 100 and Wisconsin's was 58.8 for desktop users.

Now consider that the researchers were using broadband to conduct the study. Our two states have tens of thousands of residents who lack high speed residential service, and thousands of them are you and/or your neighbor. This means residents who live the farthest away from state government offices have a more difficult time accessing services.

Load speeds on mobile devices were worse: Minnesota ranks 29th with a 54.9 score, and Wisconsin at 32rd scores 53.1.

This brings us to the second problem: State governments don't require that websites be mobile friendly. Delivering a positive mobile experience is vital because 1 in 5 U.S. citizens relies solely on a smartphone for internet access.

The good news is that our two states fare better here: Ranking ninth out of the 50 states, Wisconsin scores 93.8 in mobile-friendly websites and Minnesota is 36th at 82.

Security, the fourth study's criteria, is vital, of course. People have the right to public data while also a right to ensuring their private data remains private.

The study found that only 44 percent of state government websites passed the hypertext transfer protocol secure or HTTPS test — which means users cannot privately and securely browse most of these sites — and only 13 percent had properly enabled domain name system security extensions. DNSSEC ensures that users arrive at their requested website. Without this, hackers can redirect a request and thereby steal confidential information.

Just 4 percent passed both the HTTPS and DNSSEC tests. Scary.

State government websites are less than secure, aren't user friendly and are woefully inaccessible. Clearly, there's an immediate need to improve citizen access to e-government services and information.

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