COUNTING CHANGE: The upside to government collecting big data
August 10, 2013 - The following content is from a opinion column authored by State Auditor Suzanne Bump which originally appeared in the Quincy Patriot Ledger.
The concept of big data formerly existed only in the realm of information techies. Now, however, due especially to the NSA’s collection of telephone records, it has entered mainstream discussion. It isn’t clear, however, how well it is understood by many who are tossing around the term, and that lack of understanding is causing some to equate big data with big brother.
Big data refers to the capacity to collect, store, analyze, manage and transmit typically large volumes of different kinds of information at high speeds. The private sector has long used big data to find trends and turn them into profits. It determines what type of junk mail you receive, the suggested reading list on your Kindle, and the focusing of your internet searches. It has helped research medical breakthroughs, design products and services, streamline business processes, and determine optimum inventory levels.
Increasingly, governments are expanding their big data capabilities. They too want to put to new uses the large amounts of data they can both generate and collect from multiple sources and in multiple formats.
Recent controversies should not lead to immediate denunciation of governments’ use of big data, because it can accomplish much good.