Before I begin, I would like to first thank Mr. Jacobs for the opportunity to contribute to this blog. Hopefully I can provide some new perspectives about government information through the eyes of an (aspiring) economist.
There is no doubt that E-Government is all the rage these days. One justification for E-Government is that technology makes government more transparent, and transparency deters corruption. To the best of my knowledge, there are actually few studies that look at whether E-Government actually prevents the government from behaving badly. There is one recent study by Anderson in Information Economics and Policy that attempts to identify this relationship.
Using an indexes for corruption and E-Government, he confirms that E-Government can indeed reduce corruption, even after “controlling for any propensity for corrupt governments to be more or less aggressive in adopting e-government initiatives.” (pg 210) A broader claim one may extrapolate from this study is that transparency prevents corruption.
E-Government acts as a mechanism for transparency, in a similar manner as media/press. That said, a study by Snyder and Stromberg finds that American politicians don’t work as hard (for their constituents) if they receive less press coverage.
One advantage of E-Government is that the government knows more about their inner workings than information starved reporters. The trade-off though is that government can cherry-pick what information is revealed; why would any rational corrupt government official agree to reveal information that supports claims of his bad behavior? To that end, reporters in search for political scandals are more likely to shine the light on bad behavior than E-Government.