Florida Enacts Sweeping High-Tech Reform

Florida Governor Jeb Bush signed an information technology bill Friday designed to promote the growth of Florida’s emerging IT industry.

“The bill I signed into law today is the most comprehensive, all-encompassing technology reform in Florida’s history,” Bush said. “It will establish Florida as the state with the most aggressive strategy for transforming state government into a digital government, and it deploys a single statewide portal strategy for all governmental goods, services, and information.”

Promoting E-Commerce

The new electronic commerce law establishes a state technology office to coordinate Florida’s efforts to move into the digital era.

To encourage companies to invest in Florida’s Internet infrastructure and help the state create a network access point — a carrier-neutral, public and private Internet traffic exchange point — the state is offering a tax break on the purchase of equipment used to deploy broadband technologies.

The law creates business incubators designed to assist IT companies, and promotes the increased use of electronic signatures to reduce e-commerce fraud. Individuals and businesses will be able to conduct nearly all financial transactions with the state via the Web, and state agencies will be authorized to procure products and services online. The law is set to take effect July 1, 2000.

Julia Johnson, chairperson of Florida’s Information Service Technology Development Task Force, which is also known as Itflorida.com, said, “Jeb Bush’s personal commitment to promoting advanced technology in Florida is driving Florida’s digital economy. His leadership, coupled with South Florida’s dedication to ensuring that South Florida is the gateway to Latin America, has helped put the Internet Coast on the global map. E-Governor Bush’s continued work in this field is transforming Florida into the state of choice for the IT industry.”

Digital Government

In addition to advancing the cause of e-commerce, the law also seeks to create an “e-government” within Florida, calling for increased use of e-mail to speed government communication and increased electronic storage of records. According to the state, storing records electronically will save resources and allow agencies to share data between departments.

Bush said, “In the same way the Internet and e-commerce have transformed corporations throughout the world, technology can serve as the basis for transformation to a digital government. We recognize the power of information technology to serve as an enabler to achieve the state’s business goals and challenges, including a smaller, more effective, more efficient government.”

Protecting Privacy

Recognizing the privacy issues inherent in the electronic age, the law calls for the creation of a “Task Force on Privacy and Technology” comprised of professionals in the fields of communications, government, law enforcement, law, marketing, technology, and financial services. In addition to providing expert advice, the group is required to hold public meetings to obtain the input of Florida’s citizens.

The task force’s mission is to study the effects of new technology on privacy and to balance the state’s traditional openness of public records with the need to protect the privacy and identity of individuals. Some of the issues the task force will be studying are technology fraud — including identity theft and credit card theft — and the sale of public records to private individuals and companies.

The group has until February 1, 2001 to make its recommendations to the legislature and the governor. The law also requires that the group make recommendations to the state technology office of at least three pilot projects to “increase electronic access to public records and to reduce the reliance on paper documents while including safeguards for the protection of privacy rights and confidential information.”

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