The informatics of public administration: introduclng a new academic discipline

Autore:Jon Bing

1. Introduction and dedication -2. The danger of prophesyng -3. A legal explanation of the information age -4. Use of information technology in public administration -4.1 Sourced,of factual information -4.2 A change of policy -4.3 Some implicatìon of thè change in policy -4.4 Data quality -5. Conclusion


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  1. Introduction and dedication

    This paper is offered in tribute to professor Vittorio Frosini as a colleague and friend1. The contact with him and his department at thË University of Rome - Istituto di teoria dell'interpretazione e di informatica giuridica dell'Universit‡ di Roma ´La Sapienzaª - has been rewarding. Professor Frosini has honoured us in Oslo by visiting thË Faculty of Law and my own department, thË Norwegian Research Center for Computers and Law as a guest lecturer, dedicating one of his lectures to thË theories of Alf Ross, a Danish legai philosopher who strongly has influenced legai reaso-ning in thË Nordic countries, and which professor Frosini has introduced in Italy. A large group of students from Oslo also visited Rome, and attended lectures organised by professor Frosini at his department.

    In this way, there has been communication on several issues related to computers and law based on thË role of professor Frosini.

    But it will be allowed, I hope, to introduce also a more personal note. I am indebted to professor Frosini in many ways. In 1983 I spent some months in Italy, most of thË time in thË fiat at Marina Velcha which professor Frosini generously made available to me. While enjoying thË ancient cultural landscape of thË Etruskan, I there finished writing a science fiction novel of thË politics of artificial intellingence and thË challenge it represents for man's image of himself2, what Frosini calls ´thË new manª in his ´Human rights in thË computer ageª3.Page 24

    This is appropriately one of thË ingredients for this modest paper, but it is combined with another ingredient also elaborated by professor Frosini, that of thË computerization or informatization of thË pubfic administration.

    It is no secret that thË author is fascinated by Italy. This is, of course, partly due to her superb wines, her generous kitchen, her beaches and thË many bars. But it is mainly due to her people. Therefore this paper is dedicated professor Vittorio Frosini who is so much more than a lawyer; also a politician, a philosopher, a humanist and - above ali these: A friend.

  2. The danger of prophesyng

    The background of this paper make thË use of a science fiction extract justified. The extract is from Edward D Hoch's short-story ´Computer Copsª4. This story is thË first in a series about an elite corps of computer security agents known as ´computer copsª. It was written in 1969, which was thË same year that I graduated from Oslo university and went on to co-found thË department I stili am working for at thË Faculty of Law. In some respect, thË image of computers in these stories represent thË com-monly held view of thË future of computing at that time.

    Hoch is not a major author, but he has in this story accomplished a rare feat: In thË second of thË two opening sentences of thË story, he makes threee grave mistakes in predicting thË near future:

    ´Crader's office was on thË top floor of thË World Trade Center, overlooking ali of New York City and a good deal of New Jersey. On a clear day he could see thË atomic liners gliding silendy through thË Narrows, or thË mail rocket landing at Nixon International Airport far to thË westª.

    Hoch was mistaken in believing that social policy would allow ships powered by nuclear reactors to be allowed into thË harbour of large cities Kke New York. He was also mistaken in thË reputation thË current president of thË United States of America was making for himself: After thË impeach-ment of Richard Nixon, airports would hardly be named after him5. An in out context, Hoch was gravely mistaken in believing that there would be a piace for rocket mail (´r-mailª) in an age where global computer networksPage 25 was embracing thË worid. An E-mail message would have hit thË west coast of America before thË rocket could clear thË gantry tower.

    In this way, thË story also is a useful reminder. We know that it is difficult to make accurate predictions, even for thË near future. But we should also realize that it is difficult to comprehend thË potential in thË technology of today when thË exploitation of this potential stili is in thË future. This is a characteristic of information technology: Even if no new inventions are made in thË next decade, we will go on exploiting and exploring thË possibilities already opened by this new and potent technology.

    In order to introduce a perpective, we precariously offer in thË next section a brief history of thË trade in information.

  3. A legal explanation of the information age

    In his essay, Frosini surveys thË whole of human history - indicating three elements which I suggest create ´thË image of a 'new' man living in thË computer ageª. This three elements are (1) AI - dialogue between computers and humans, (2) space travel, and (3) telecommunications and telematics.

    This grand view has made me dare also to offer thË sketch of a history, characterising in legai terms thË development of thË trade in information. And surprisingly, there are only three basic forms of contract.

    First, there is thË employment or consultarti contract. As language appeared in thË dawn of history, it became possible for one person to communication with another. Knowledge could be shared, and a price could be taken for this: If you will give me a leg of mammoth, I will teli you where there is good hunting.

    This is stili a major way for trade in information. Most persons today are ernployed for what they know, their background knowledge or metho-dological knowledge. Few are employed due to their strength, physical agility or their beauty.

    The main restriction to this form for trade is that it has to take piace in real time. Originally, it also rad to take piace within speaking distance of thË knowledgeable person.

    Second, there is thË sales contract. This required a further development, a written language. When thË city civilization of Sumer emerged, it became necessary to keep accounts for thË vegetables, meat and other goods brought into thË city. And it practically impossible to keep accurate and certainPage 26 accounts orally. This need led to thË development of a System of recording Information by wedges of tree which were pressed into ciay tablets.

    In this, two of thË major limitations of transactions based on orally rendered information were overcome. The tablets could be carried away a long distance, and stili covey information to thË reader. They could also covey information over time - a long time after thË writers are gone, we stili share thË information on thË markets of thË cities of Sumer.

    The imprinting of information on physical objects are stili a popular practice: Obvious examples are books and phonograms. The trade takes thË form of a sales transaction ? thË fact that thË value of a book and a cheese is derived from different qualities in thË traded object has little importance for thË contractual form6.

    The story of information technology is to a large extent thË story...

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