As Local Governments Tap Into Tech, Privacy Becomes A Concern

Local government officials are now using technology to gather information that helps them do their jobs, an issue that opens new doors for innovation. Drones, Bluetooth sensors, license plate readers, and traffic cameras are just a sampling of the available technology.

Advancement in technology can create concerns that should be considered regarding individual’s privacy and security. As drones are used for assessing new properties, making damage assessments, and assuring that development follows construction plans, liability issues arise including the use and storage of photos of people.

Additional concerns relate to the use of mobile parking apps that store personal credit card information and license plate readers that use data from the national crime database. Liability is minimized through adherence to protecting credit card data standards and limited personal information that is provided by the national crime database.

Summarized from staugustine.com

Blockchain Taskforce Bill Passes in New Jersey Senate

The NJ Legislature has passed S-2297, a bill sponsored by Sen. Tom Kean (R-21) and Sen. James Beach (D-6), that launched the” NJ Blockchain Initiative Task Force” to study whether state, county, and municipal governments can benefit from a transition to a blockchain-based system for record keeping and service delivery. Simply stated, blockchain is digital information (the block) stored in a public database (the chain).

According to the legislation, blockchain will allow the state to reduce the prevalence of disparate computer systems, databases, and custom-built software interfaces, reducing costs associated with maintenance and implementation, streamlining the sharing of information, and allowing more regions of the state to participate in electronic government services.

The task force will study opportunities and risks associated with using the technology, different types of blockchains, and different consensus algorithms, projects and use cases currently under development in other states and nations, and how the legislature can modify current state laws to support secure, paperless recordkeeping.

Summarized from BlockTribune.com

U.S. State & Local Government IT Leaders Say Burdensome Regulations Limit Use of Digital Tools Necessary for Protecting Data

U.S. state and local government IT decision makers are limited in their ability to deliver certain online services due to regulations that hinder the use of digital tools needed to protect citizen data.

A survey of 200 state and local IT officials found that two-thirds of the respondents view digital transformation projects as critical for offering citizens a single platform for finding information about public services and applying for benefits and permits. Nearly three out of four said that current statutes, regulations, and standards represent a barrier to doing so.

There is a need to look beyond current requirements so that governments can take advantage of tools to reduce costs, limit risk, and better support agency and citizen needs. It is imperative that state and local agencies recognize the impact that technology has on transforming the way people live and work. More than 80 percent of respondents said that they have, or are planning to have mobile apps to provide access to government agencies.

Summarized from Unisys Corporation/PR Newswire

Tech Companies, States Spar with Government Over Net Neutrality

Tech companies and nearly two dozen states clashed with the government in federal court over the repeal of net neutrality, the Obama-era rules preventing big Internet providers from discriminating against certain technology and services.

Lawyers for the states and the companies argued to restore net neutrality, repealed in December 2017 by the Trump administration.

The net neutrality rules had banned cable, wireless, and other broadband providers from arbitrarily blocking or slowing down websites and apps, the process referred to as “throttling.”

Because the FCC classified the Internet as an information service rather than a telecom service, it was determined that the agency was justified in not addressing misconduct by the large Internet providers. The government lawyers and the large providers like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast argued to keep neutrality repealed, allowing them to continue under current regulations. The FCC requirement of Internet providers to disclose practices and operations is a sufficient safeguard.

Summarized from TheLedger.com

Where is Blockchain in Government Headed?

Simply stated, blockchain is digital information (the block) stored in a public database (the chain). While its popularity has grown in recent years, government agencies are fine-tuning their use cases and picking their blockchain projects wisely.

When looking for a blockchain project it is necessary to evaluate certain factors to determine appropriateness. 1) Would the project work in a business environment? 2) Is the information appropriate to be shared? 3) How will success be measured? 4) Will the project overcome funding and regulatory issues? 5) How will success be measured?

For the right project there are significant benefits to blockchain technology when solving tactical issues but an agency must be certain of the value before embarking on the project development.

Summarized from MeriTalk

Government Websites Are Going Interactive With Budget Details. But Will Citizens Know What They’re Seeing?

When the Radnor Township, Pennsylvania Commissioners discovered that the Township Manager had given himself nearly $130,000 in unauthorized bonuses, they began an initiative to become more transparent about Township funds.

The “Open Finance” website was launched as an interactive tool to let residents, investors, business owners, government employees, and others explore the township’s budget through charts and graphs. The site allows users to look at broad data or drill deep into funds, reaching individual check amounts if desired.

The Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) has determined that current technology enables smaller governments to offer the same types of online tools that larger governments are providing their constituents. The GFOA is working on best practices for online budget tools.

(summarized from The Inquirer)

Blockchain Explained

Quite simply, blockchain is digital information (the block) stored in a public database (the chain).

Blocks store information about transactions, (ex. date time, dollar amount); who is participating in a transaction and what distinguishes them from other blocks. A single block can store up to 1 MB of data – a few thousand transactions.

A blockchain consists of multiple blocks strung together. For a block to be added to the chain four things must happen: a transaction must occur; the transaction must be verified; the transaction must be stored in the block; the block must be given a hash – a unique identifying code. At this point the block is publicly available.

When a user opts to connect a computer to the blockchain network, the computer receives a copy of the blockchain that is updated automatically when a block is added. Because each computer has its own blockchain copy, there isn’t a single account of events that can be manipulated by a hacker.

Security is enhanced as new blocks are stored linearly and chronologically. It is difficult to alter the block because it contains its own hash and the hash of the block preceding it.

An example of government use of blockchain technology is to store data about property exchanges. The blockchain can eliminate the need for scanning documents and tracking down physical files if property ownership is stored and verified as previously described.

Voting with blockchain can eliminate election fraud and boost turnout with each vote being store on the blockchain, making it nearly impossible to tamper with the data.

 

Summarized from investopedia.com

“Robbinhood” Ransomware Takes Down Baltimore City Government Networks

Systems at a number of Baltimore city government departments were taken offline on May 7 by a ransomware attack. Police, fire, and emergency response systems were not affected but nearly every other department of city government was negatively impacted in some manner.

A very aggressive new variant of the “RobbinHood” ransomware was determined to be the culprit by the FBI. The malware appears to target only files on a single system and does not spread through the network. It is meant to be deployed on each machine individually.

To infiltrate, the attacker needs to previously have gained administrative-level access to a system on the network. Additionally, a public RSA key must be present on the targeted computer.

 

(summarized from arstechica.com)

The Challenges of Connected Government

Anyone who has watched episodes of Star Trek are aware that fiction has become part of our reality. Captain Kirk’s communicator and the Enterprise’s smart sensors are now part of our daily lives. Since the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Internet has morphed from a service that was nice to have to a utility like water and electricity.

This progress has made governments responsible to deliver quality services to citizens while maintaining a fair budget. The “Internet of Things (IoT) is “the network of connected computers, devices, machines, and their components with electronics, software, and sensors that enable them to link and exchange data.” In a connected government, agency assets are part of this network.

The problem facing government is the financial constraint that limits investment in technology. The fact is that government must invest in technology infrastructure to ensure reliable, fast, and streamlined automated processes that support connectivity. Without technology, the transition to connected government will not be successful.

Being connected is essential for governments, creating opportunities for innovation and growth while at the same time, opening opportunities for cybercrime and attacks.

(summarized from govtech.com)

Text-To- 911 Capabilities Launch in Suffolk County, NY

The Suffolk police department has implemented technology that allows cell phone users to send a text message to a 911 call center during an emergency. An estimated 80 percent of 911 calls in the United States come from smartphones.

The “text-to-911” program can be particularly important in a case of domestic violence or active shooter situation when a voice call may be impossible. The technology also allows hearing- and speech-impaired individuals to contact 911 during a medical emergency, a more efficient means than the TTY system.

The system cannot accept group texts, photos, or videos and it is recommended that users not use abbreviations, symbols, or emojis.

The Suffolk system is funded on a surcharge to cellphone users and had an initial cost of $72,000 with an annual cost of $49,500.

(summarized from govetech.com)