Historians might call this the “Age of Big Data.” If you were to ask your government officials what is “Big Data”? Their response might be similar to quoting a U.S. Supreme Court Justice when asked about pornography, -“I know it when I see it.”
With the Snowden scandal, the hacking of sensitive credit card information at Target, or even a television show like “Persons of Interest” nobody seems to have a grasp of what exactly is “Big Data?” Big Data is basically information.
As computer capacities to store information has grown as well as its speed to process that information has gotten faster, businesses, social organizations, and even governments have been able to research more, learn more, and obtain more information about us, not as a people, but as individuals.
Consider the concept of micro targeting. Micro targeting allows campaigns to target their message to specific voters by addressing their specific issues. The ability to micro target voters is a major difference between winning campaigns and losing campaigns. Consider this example. All of this has come about because of Big Data.
Recently the White House has announced a committee to review the use of Big Data. The use of Big Data raises some interesting ethical issues-for instance with the advent of Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Instagram, how do we view the right of privacy, as defined by the “right to be left alone”? Or how about our personhood? If we allow businesses and governments go uncheck with the use of big data, will the prophecy of Pink Floyd’s The Wall be fulfilled. Will we go from the concept of the Imago Dei to becoming a brick?
Notice that we have not even addressed the NSA issue. On the one hand, new information can give us the ability to fully assess government policies, lead to new medical discovery, or it will lead to a society where the rights to free speech and assembly maybe threaten under the watchful eyes of surveillance cameras.
As I had posted a couple months ago, Congress needs to learn the lessons of Pandora’s box and General Braddock. That same call for balance applies to the White House as well in how its assess big data.