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 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