Friday, August 05, 2016

The cost of Big Brother

The New Zealand government has built Big Brother: an "Integrated Data Infrastructure" which combines all the information the government collects on you into one big pile for data mining, supposedly in order to produce better policies. But what are the costs of this sort of system? Over the Tasman, they're learning the hard way that one of them is a massive decrease in trust their statistics agency:

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has so badly mishandled the question of retaining names that its senior leadership need to consider their futures.

The ABS is – sorry, was – probably one of Australia's most trusted bureaucracies, alongside the Bureau of Meteorology, the Australian Electoral Commission, and Geosciences Australia.

But since deciding that this year's Australian census will retain participants' names and use them for ill-defined data-matching purposes, the Bureau has so alienated people there are serious calls for name-boycotts and a persistent discussion about the scale of fines (AU$180 a day up to a maximum $1,800, if you're interested). Those calls can undermine the census and its mission of providing policy-makers with useful data.

Like New Zealand, the ABS wants to link census and other data in order to conduct data mining on health, social security, and social outcomes. But they never bothered to ask anyone first, and the result is that people are now openly advocating evading next week's census.

Statistics New Zealand might want to consider that before pushing on with their Big Brother idea.