Government Technology Spectrum

Government Technology Spectrum

by / April 16, 2002
...Colorado Lays Privacy Groundwork
DENVER - Colorado, like other states, is discovering that setting consumer privacy policies can be difficult.

The state's Legislature created the Colorado Information Privacy Task Force during the 2000 legislative session. The 19-member task force was tasked with studying privacy and making recommendations to the Legislature on the best way to deal with the issue. The group met for the first time this year and quickly realized that a tremendous amount of work lies ahead.

"Privacy issues are changing now and will change in the future," said Donetta Davidson, Colorado's secretary of state and chairperson of the task force. "We've done a lot of research and heard from a lot of different people. I've learned more about privacy issues than I ever thought I would know. It's been eye-opening."

The task force is comprised of representatives from a variety of constituent groups, including state legislators; attorneys; banks/financial services; senior citizens; consumers; county clerks and recorders; health-care providers; insurance agencies; law enforcement agencies; medical and pharmaceutical entities; private investigators; and providers or collectors of personal electronic data.

Although the composition of the task force translates into many different opinions on privacy, Davidson said they are making progress.

"There's not many states that have actually adopted [privacy measures], and I think it's because they've found that it's very difficult," she said.

...States Learn to Share
DES MOINES, Iowa - State and local government IT officials in Iowa are considering sharing an electronic-payment engine recently purchased by the state's Information Technology Department.

"The state is looking for things they can do that will benefit cities and counties in Iowa," said Michael Armstrong, CIO of Des Moines. "This is one of the big ones."

Though the arrangement could save cities and counties time and money because they wouldn't have to develop their own e-payment engines, Armstrong is more interested in streamlining certain relationships.

"When you do payments, you have a number of external parties involved," he said. "You've got credit card companies; you've got automated clearinghouses; you've got banks; and, for us, that's a set of relationships that we don't have to manage. That's a real attraction."

The state is making a concerted effort to reach out to cities and counties, Armstrong noted, adding that Des Moines is an ideal test bed because of its size and because it's the state's capital.

Richard Varn, Iowa's CIO, said that if something is built for state agencies it ought to be shared with local jurisdictions, especially since people tend to identify more with their local government than with state government.

"The opportunity this presents is for enterprise resources being used to deliver government services efficiently through that local point of presence, whether it's a Web presence or a physical presence," Varn said. "We have offered to give the code [to the e-payment engine] to any Iowa government unit. [We're] just looking for opportunities where we're not stepping on local governments' toes. We're giving them a service or an opportunity to cut their costs and ramp up a little faster into electronic government."

...A Twist on Tech Funding
ST. PAUL, Minn. - Minnesota's Department of Public Safety is using a public/private partnership to help fund upgrades to the state's motor-vehicle-registration processing system.

In a deal between the department and Imagitas, a Massachusetts-based company, the department will turn over the annual mailing of approximately 4.5 million state license-tab renewal forms to the company.

In return, the company will insert commercial advertisements into the mailings. Under the terms of the deal, the ads must be vehicle or transportation related and will typically include items such as coupons for free car washes or discounted oil changes.

A newsletter with public-service information from the department will also be included. Imagitas will pay all postage costs.

Officials with the Department of Public Safety estimate that this arrangement will save the state approximately $215,000 per year, part of which will be used to make improvements to their motor vehicle processing system.

...Managing Temps
ATLANTA - Georgia state agencies will soon have an easier way to round up temporary IT staff.

The Georgia Technology Authority (GTA) outsourced that function to an outside company, Personnel Group of America (PGA), which will operate and manage an automated vendor-management system.

"We want to make it easier for state agencies to locate temporary IT staff," said Michael Clark, information and publications manager of the GTA. "If I'm an agency IT director, I just log on to this Web site and I can enter what my requirements are; what I'm looking for in an IT staffer; and the PGA will then respond to my request within 72 hours with a list of candidates."

Agencies will also be relieved of screening a candidate because the company already does that. Clark said that will help agencies fill positions much more quickly. In addition, the process required for paying temporary IT staffers will be conducted online, and the company will send the state agency one itemized bill for all of the agency's temporary staff each month.

...New Life for Old Beer
TULSA, Okla. - A chemistry professor at the University of Tulsa is proposing a new approach to cleaning up one of the nation's worst Superfund sites.

Professor Tom Harris wants to create a wetland of stale beer to clean up Tar Creek, which is contaminated with dangerous levels of lead, zinc and cadmium from an abandoned mine.

According to Harris, the sugar-like molecules in stale beer feed sulfate-reducing bacteria, which, through a chemical reaction, convert sulfate ions to sulfide ions, a reaction that separates the dangerous metals out of the water and traps them in the soil at the bottom of the wetland.

Since beer is pasteurized, it doesn't introduce its own bacteria to the wetland - bacteria that would compete with the microorganisms that do the actual remediation work.

"Many times, these mines are abandoned and the companies are long out of business, so the government agencies or private groups that are looking to solve the problem don't have a lot money to spend," Harris said. "At that point, you start looking around for the cheapest [solution] - and beer was one of the things that presented itself."

Harris said other liquids, such as molasses, would also work.

...New Competition for the Bionic Man
ATSUGI, Japan - Researchers at the Kanagawa Institute of Technology have created and tested a bionic suit that would make the $6 million man green with envy.

According to the New Scientist, the suit is essentially a robotic exoskeleton that attaches to a person's arms and legs along his or her back. The "Power Assist Suit" is made of a jointed metal framework and was designed primarily to help nurses lift heavier patients.

Although they are a bit clunky now - the suit trails its wires and compressed-air lines behind it - a nurse wearing the suit and weighing 140 pounds was able to pick up and carry a patient weighing 155 pounds.

Sensor pads attached to major muscle groups calculate how much force is needed to pick up a patient. As a nurse lifts a patient, the sensors send that data to the suit's microprocessors, according to the New Scientist. The suit's computer uses the information to provide sufficient power to assist the nurse in lifting the patient, similar to how a spotter at a gym would help another person lift weights.

Five actuators - at the elbows, knees and one behind the waist - mobilize the suit as the wearer is lifting a heavy object. The suit is powered by compressed air.

The suit weighs nearly 40 pounds in its prototype stage, but the researchers believe that the weight could be halved to produce a commercial version.

...Broadband Bellwether
WASHINGTON, D.C. - According to recent data from the FCC, high-speed Internet connections increased by 63 percent in the U.S. during the second half of 2000, bringing the total number of high-speed lines in service to 7.1 million.

The FCC's most recent numbers, released in mid-August, show the growth rate for the whole of 2000 at 158 percent. Residential and small business subscribers were using more than five million of those high-speed lines.

The presence of high-speed service subscribers was reported in all 50 states, and, at the local level, 75 percent of the country's ZIP codes reported at least some high-speed subscribers, compared to 56 percent at the end of 1999.

High-speed subscribers were reported in 97 percent of the most densely populated ZIP codes, and among ZIP codes with the lowest population densities, 45 percent reported the presence of high-speed subscribers, compared to 24 percent a year earlier.

For ZIP codes ranked by median family income, high-speed subscribers were reported in 96 percent of the top one-tenth of ZIP codes and in 56 percent of the bottom one-tenth of ZIP codes, compared to 42 percent a year earlier.

High-speed Internet access over cable systems went up by 57 percent during the last six months of 2000 to a total of 3.6 million. The growth rate for the full year was 153 percent.

Satellite and fixed-wireless technology represent a small fraction of the total high-speed lines in use. Still, that segment is showing some growth as the number of such subscribers grew to 112,000 in December 2000, more than doubling last year's numbers.

...SMS-to-Speech Service
DORTMUND, Germany - A German firm known as Materna developed an SMS-to-speech text messaging service that allows mobile users to "text" fixed-line users.

The service is already live on the E-Plus wireless network in Germany and is set to launch on the D2 network, also in Germany. The company said it plans to roll out the service, subject to the network carriers signing up, in the UK later in the year.

Chris Marks, a company spokesman, said mobile and fixed-line users in Germany are starting to realize that text messaging is no longer just a mobile user's sport.

"Several fixed-line Siemens phones already offer the facility to send text messages to mobile users, so this service extends the technology in the other direction," he said.

Early figures from Germany suggest that approximately 35,000 text messages are being routed through the company's E-Plus gateway to fixed-line users.

The company's server uses text-to-speech technology from Lernout & Hauspie and, the firm said, already supports four European languages - English, French, German and Spanish.

Tests have shown that the software can handle the shortened phonetic alphabet that many kids use to write text messages. - Newsbytes