Big Data and the Binding Idea of the State
Although the potential negative implications for Big Data use and misuse are potentially more significant on the grand scale than the opportunities, when considering Big Data use in relation to governance and security it is easy to forget the positive opportunities that inhabit the periphery of the discussion.
Facilitating a break out discussion group at an event last week (Big Data 1.0 + 2.0 @ FACT, Liverpool) on this topic provided an insight into how individuals from various fields and sectors perceive the implications of Big Data. Predominantly these were negative.
The fearful and pessimistic outlook of the group seemed to envision Big Data as a wedge that will be driven through society by large corporations and governments. These forces would seek to monopolise data and consequentially augment greater societal division, based on class, race and demographic classification, possibly leading to isolation and potential social unrest on a scale not seen before.
In contrast to this bleak outlook, is there opportunity for Big Data utilisation to do the opposite and actually enhance the factors that bind citizens to the state and create a national atmosphere of optimism and unity? Hypothetically the health service, law enforcement, revenue and customs and other public sector organisations, which are so scrutinised by society, become more efficient and cost effective if they use Big Data as a tool for clarity and best practice. This in turn reduces the economic burden on the tax payer, i.e. the general public, easing distrust and increasing public morale. An increase in trust in the public services could dramatically encourage positive social change at all levels, especially with the disaffected and isolated members of society.
This of course is feasible only if the public sector harbours a transparent approach to data sharing and Big Data use. The Data Sharing Open Policy Process (see http://datasharing.org.uk/) is an encouraging sign that this is the approach the UK Government might take. The Cabinet Office led open discussion on developments in this field is overseen by public representation and offers citizens the opportunity to contribute. There is of course no guarantee that this transparency will transcend all sectors but taking an optimistic approach on the matter can we imagine that the future positive implications of Big Data outweigh the negative?
The conceivable impacts that Big Data exploitation will have on society are multifaceted. The negative implications will undoubtedly manifest in varying degrees of severity and the correct oversight needs to be put in place now to ensure the most effective contingencies. The positive connotations however present opportunities that cannot afford to be missed and require attention to avoid a knowledge and capability gap that could be as significant as the ethical and security threats associated with Big Data monopolisation.
Public consciousness of these implications
needs to be raised through engaging events such as Big Data 1.0 + 2.0 (FACT, Liverpool 9th October 2014)
and the forming of unfamiliar networks and partnerships which breach interfaces to prevent organisational
isolation. Transparent and informative processes need to be in place to seize
the opportunities of Big Data, found the knowledge and skills to avoid the
capability gap neutralise further threat.
This column was written by Mr. Robert Barrows (CASI, Liverpool Hope University). Follow his blog www.robertbarrows.co.uk