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Over the past two years, government organizations have increasingly begun to use the Internet (especially the World Wide Web) to disseminate and gather information and to offer services to the public. As these applications multiply, concerns surrounding appropriate use, management, and value have emerged. In so short a time, states, localities, and federal agencies have only begun to explore the possibilities and understand the complexities of the Internet. As a result, Internet use policies are only in their infancy. As part of an Internet Services Testbed project, the Center for Technology in Government collected and reviewed existing government policies during April - July 1996. We tried to learn what topics were currently considered most important and to see how these topics were treated in policy documents. Most policies examined came from states and are meant to govern the activities of individual agencies. Each policy was reviewed to answer two questions:

  • What do state governments consider essential items to cover in an Internet policy?
  • What kind of guidance do they give? (e.g., very specific rules, guiding principles)

We searched the WWW for state government policies and also solicited responses from government organizations through the NASCIO and GOVPUB listservs. NASCIO is the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, an organization representing the information management agencies and professionals in all 50 states. GOVPUB is an Internet discussion list created to encourage discussion among state and local government professionals who are responsible for creating and maintaining Internet services. In all, we reviewed 17 government polices (twelve states, two state agencies, two federal agencies, and Australia). The variety we found reflects the wide range of uses and approaches that can be seen in the way governments use the Internet today. The policies ranged from very detailed "cookbooks" with many definitions and procedural requirements to "guiding principles" that emphasize over arching policy goals. Some cover a full range of topics, others emphasize only one or two. After examining the various policies, four main focus areas emerged.