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Abstract

In this paper we examine the ways in which implementing new information and communication technologies (ICTs) to automate public sector processes affects accountability. New technologies alter conventional modes of behavior in the public sector, shedding light on certain areas of bureaucratic practice and obscuring others, and in doing so they enhance accountability and exacerbate dysfunctions. To investigate how ICTs influence the accountability equation, we explore a range of empirically documented e-government implementations, from simple transactions involving low-levels of automation to highly automated systems such as fingerprint analysis technologies. Drawing on these empirical examples, we develop a tentative framework of ICT-exacerbated accountability dysfunctions. Following this, we then discuss potential accountability arrangements for different types of e-government processes, in hope of realizing the benefits of new technologies while minimizing the potential for unaccountability and dysfunction that could arise from their application. Throughout, we stress the necessity of striking a balance between the potential benefits of ICTs to the bureaucratic process and systems that may reduce efficiency but uphold accountability.

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