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The photos of Barack Obama checking his Blackberry on the campaign trail carried a lot of symbolic weight, and not just for the "Crackberry" addicted. Obama is the first president to personally embrace information technology. Certainly, he understands IT as a political tool, having used email and the Internet to incredible effect during the presidential campaign.

It's also clear from his technology agenda that Obama grasps how information technology is a potential platform for more effective government. As he prepares to take office and put that agenda into motion, the question is what lessons can the Obama administration learn from the corporate world?

Prominent among Obama's IT goals was to appoint a federal CTO to "create a new level of transparency, accountability and participation" in government and to "improve the exchange of information between the federal government and citizens while assuring the security of our networks." These are laudable public policy goals. They're also inherently antagonistic, because openness and fluidity are antithetical to security.

Government has an obligation -- and in most cases is legally required -- to be open to citizens. To a large degree it already is. Laws such as the Freedom of Information Act give citizens access to most of the information the government compiles on them. But for the federal government to be truly transparent in the way Obama envisions, citizens must be able to access all of their information in the same way they can access their banking, credit card, and investment accounts via the Internet.

In the electronic participatory government of tomorrow, citizens will get an email as their passport completes processing and ships. Their personal profiles at the Social Security Administration will enable them to see, track and administer their data.

Along with transparency, however, government also has an obligation to protect citizens' personal information from theft and tampering. Providing a direct pathway from citizens to government IT systems gives fraudsters and identity thieves an avenue to that information as well. Balancing security and openness, a difficult job in itself, is even harder at the federal government's level because of its massive scale.


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