Last week Gordon Brown’s battered and bruised government made a bold move and appointed Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, to help the British government to make its data more easily available online. The prime minister apparently jumped on the bandwagon alongside with Obama administration to make the State more transparent and accountable to the citizens. In fact, this tiny news item did not get much coverage because of all the scandals that are shaking up Number 10, however I thought it was pretty important. Sir Berners-Lee originally devised the technologies behind the world wide web in the early ’/90s while working at the particle collider laboratory at CERN (Centre Européenne pour la Recheche Nucléaire) in Switzerland. He was trying to devise a method that would allow researchers to get easy access to documents for a future project they were working on. So the Internet, as we know today, is the outcome of those efforts. Obviously nobody could have been more qualified than Sir Berners-Lee for the position of opening up of access to government data on the web. The main objective will be the creation of a central data source from which all sorts of government data can be accessed. Also this project has recently been introduced by the Obama administration in the US.
While the American and British governments are still working on answering a public demand for citizens’ digital engagement, believe it or not, the Turkish government already managed to launch an E-Government portal (http://www.turkiye.gov.tr/) on December 18, 2008. With the slogan “”Gateway to Government” or “Shortcut to Government”, the portal began to serve all Turkish citizens as well as the business community with a single point of access to E-Government services. After I surfed on the website, I found out that all public sector agencies can also interact with each other and exchange information. Currently the E-Government Gateway includes a total of 21 services as well as information on administrative procedures. Secure transaction is currently provided through electronic signature, mobile electronic signature or password offered to users upon request. In the near future users will access the portal with smart cards. Also, the system will be extended to serve additional communication devices like smart phones. In 2005 Turkey had signed a US$ 23.6 million deal for this portal as a part of its EU accession dreams. As the dreams are seeming to fade away, E-government project is running quite smoothly so far. While the citizens are encouraged to access information and government data online, the same citizens are banned access to video-sharing website YouTube along with Myspace, Geocities, WordPress, and Dailymotion. YouTube has been blocked for more than a year now. In this country of many contradictions, citizens can enjoy the advantages of an effective E-Government portal instead of queuing in front of public offices but at the same time they are banned to get access to certain sites because of arbitrary content censorship. The idea behind E-Government in the UK and US is increasing citizen participation and engagement by being connected, the government’s serving the public efficiently, also being accountable and transparent to the citizens as part of their democratic ideals. If we take this definition into account, the E-Government project in Turkey seems nothing more than a hollow EU accession technicality.