Electronic commerce has become part of mainstream business, and as such there have been failures and disputes which have resulted in litigation, court decisions and a developing body of case law. Despite this there are no real barriers to the use of ecommerce by federal agencies, although there are some specific differences to be considered with regard to policies that apply to government.
There are various barriers within federal agencies with regard to using ecommerce that are not faced by private companies. In particular there is a challenge with regard to ensuring privacy and confidentiality. While all organizations using ecommerce are expected to protect the integrity of financial and payment information of customers, federal agencies have a heightened responsibility with reference to this because of legislation that provides this assurance to citizens and others and also because of the potential threat that it could pose to domestic security (Fienberg, 2006).
One fear with regard to privacy and confidentiality concerns not a direct breach of government security, but rather the potential of linking multiple databases resulting in analysis and inference that provides unintended information (Fienberg, 2006). This has potential uses for identity theft and other forms of fraud (Fienber, 2006). Encryption and security systems alone cannot necessarily protect against this emerging technological capacity (Fienberg, 2006). Such data mining could also be an activity of the federal agencies themselves, which may be a cause for concern for citizens even if no legislative privacy requirements are breached (Fienberg, 2006).The threat of terrorism and the use of government held information, including that obtained through ecommerce transactions, is another consideration with regard to the online activities of federal agencies (Fienberg, 2006).
In fact, the litigation involving federal agencies is more likely to be with reference to externally held information, such as a recent case where the federal government attempted to subpoena Google to provide information regarding search data for several individuals (Fienberg, 2006).
While the government should be wary with regard to relying on electronic commerce, it must be wary of relying on any information database, as there is potential for breaches of security or legal action for access. Even if federal agencies do not use ecommerce, the information with regard to transactions would likely be available in the form of a database.
Governments around the world, including American federal agencies, are already conducting their business online and these transactions often include an ecommerce component. In India, for example, the government has created a database that manages the identity of all of its citizens, requiring over one billion entries (Dubey, Saquib, & Dwivedi, 2015). This system, referred to as Aadhaar, centralizes and manages nearly every aspect of government programs and also is the framework for financial transactions.
While there are differences between commercial and government concerns relating to privacy and confidentiality, the management of ecommerce is not essentially different; each attempts to ensure the security of ecommerce data and transactions to the best of their ability. The threat to reputation which would occur for a private company should it be revealed that security was compromised would result in a drop in demand for its services by ecommerce, and this could have devastating impacts. While this is a small matter in comparison to threats of foreign intrusion and capture of government information, for the organization it is critical to the survival and sustainability of the business and therefore taken just as seriously.
While governments, including American federal agencies, face barriers to ecommerce in the form of needing to ensure security for confidentiality, various methodologies have been employed to protect such systems. The base of the concern may be different, but the management of data protection is equally important to both private and public organizations.
- Dubey, A., Saquib, Z., & Dwivedi, S. (2015, October). Electronic authentication for e-Government services-a survey. In IET Conference Proceedings. The Institution of Engineering & Technology.
- Fienberg, S. E. (2006). Privacy and confidentiality in an e-commerce world: Data mining, data warehousing, matching and disclosure limitation. Statistical Science, 143-154.