Information equity pre 2010
Information equity means equitable access to all forms and levels of information.
The Internet and its utilisation as an information tool facilitate major changes in the ways we communicate with one another, organise our communities and conduct business. While the Internet and other technological advances promise access to a world of information, if the rapid technological changes and policy responses to those changes are mishandled, rather than easing injustice, Australia may see the development of entrenched information poverty. Members of the community who are information poor lack the equipment, channels, training or supply of information resources upon which life as a citizen and a consumer depends.
There is clearly a divide between those in society able to afford internet access and those who cannot. It appears that the take up and use of the technology is segmented largely along the lines of existing categories of disadvantage.
Many government departments and private sector entities are deliver information online. Media outlets are seek an online presence. Libraries face severe restrictions and many organisations see online provision of information and resources as a more effective and cheaper alternative.
Human rights commitments made by Australian governments under various international agreements require that:
- people have equal access to information, government services and opportunities;
- people have equal access to commercial services necessary to secure an adequate standard of living without unnecessary restrictions and without discrimination on grounds such as age or disability.
Signatories must ensure equal access and treatment in public services and programs and ensure these rights without any discrimination. Ensuring people with disabilities have access to appropriate Internet and information technology resources falls within these obligations.
Is a government's ability to deliver upon these commitments to all people in any way compromised by progressively shifting its contact with citizens to the online medium?
In December 1997, the Prime Minister made a commitment to putting all appropriate Commonwealth Government services online by 2001. In 1999 the Victorian Government introduced the Connecting Victoria program which aims to deliver government services more cost effectively, increase the quality of its interactions with Victorians and finally to build a 'smart society'. At the same time, both Federal and Victorian Governments have been encouraging Australians to go online . There are a number of Federal and State funding programs encouraging both individuals and organisations to become members of the online community in a range of ways - as citizens, consumers, publishers or small business operators. The success and reach of such programs has benefits for government in terms of streamlining both its interactions with citizens and its delivery of information.
Interactions with government online may include seeking and providing information, submitting applications and receiving and paying money. All Commonwealth Government departments (unless exempted by regulation) were required to be capable of interacting electronically by July 2001. Examples of government information routinely available online but not in hard copy include departmental annual reports, reports and discussion papers supporting governmental inquiries.
However not all Australians are able to access or use the new information technologies and those with disabilities may find it even more difficult. For example, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has expressed the view that more than just an Internet connection at home is required to achieve information equity. In addition, Web site design is an important factor in ensuring greater access both in terms of technological requirements of the user and also the ease with which the site is able to be interpreted.
Recent research by NATSEM (the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling) in a collaborative project with ACOSS and Communications Law Centre found that:
- the Internet take-up rate for high income households is 3.2 times that for low income households
- households with tertiary qualified adults are 2.3 times more likely to have Internet access at home than those without tertiary qualifications.
Electronic Frontiers Australia
ACCC: Access Pricing Papers
NOIE Access & equity projects
NOIE Enhancing Access
HREOC Disability rights director: Information access for people with disabilities
Community Information Network of Australia
Access and Equity at the ABA: policy and procedures
Trends in Television Education and Technology in Australia
Independent Education Union of Australia: Information Technology in Schools
Becta Internet and Communications Technology Research: Looking Into the Digital Divide (rtf)
Becta IRC: Digital Divide Discussion paper [pdf]
Becta Digital Divide Seminar Papers [pdf]
BYTE Audit report: Young People?s Access to IT in Australia
Victorian government links: the Digital Divide
ACT Government Digital Divide Task Force
Infoxchange Digital Divide projects
Parliamentray library : a Digital Divide in Rural and regional Australia?
Bridging the Digital Divide Initiative
Disability Rights: Building a Bridge Over the Digital Divide
The Disability Information Resource
Raising secrecy to an art form (Information Equity)
The New Zealand Model - The Official Information Act 1982 (Information Equity)
Three Challenges to Open Government (Information Equity)
FOI Review Processes (Information Equity)
Community Right to Know and FOI in Chemical Management (Information Equity)