The Government’s Big (Data) Deal

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It is highly likely that when the terms data and the U.S. government are mentioned in the same breath, it is highly likely that most of our minds will go straight to the National Security Administration (NSA) and their wiretapping, among others, scandal which was brought to light by Edward Snowden in June 2013. Immediately, following the release, Americans divided into three groups: one, composed of those who think of Edward Snowden as a national traitor that compromised the security of our armed forces overseas and our citizens at home; two, made up of those who were outraged by the knowledge that our government was spying on us daily; and three, composed of those who fall somewhere in between. (Side note: It turns out most of us fall into group three, as John Oliver and the crew at Last Week Tonight discovered.)

For those who fall into group two, it can be easy to become completely turned off by the idea of the Government using big data, especially if you don’t realize the full scope of how the two interact with each other. Truth be told, until this week, while I wouldn’t exactly fall into this grouping of people, I, too, was unaware of many of the positive effects the derived from our government’s relationship with big data.

In his article, “6 Incredible Ways Big Data Is Used by the US Government,” big-data-specialist Bernard Marr, in an unexpected twist, recounts six ways that the Government uses big data. Some may say that these are incredible! All jokes aside, the six uses of big data have led to developments that will potentially have a huge positive impact on the future of our country, and, very likely, the world.

For example, using of big data, governmental health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) can track the spread of potentially life-threatening illnesses using social media. Additionally, national law enforcement agencies (at federal, state and county levels) uses big data to help track down anyone with outstanding warrants (via license plate recognition software), to pinpoint areas where crime may occur, and to link particular crimes to former offenders.

Certainly, we can all agree that these developments are for the better for us as a nation, and without big data, not only would they not currently exist, but it may have been many more years before we would have the technologies necessary to make even the thought of them possible. Also, keep in mind that these are just a few of the early developments to follow our country’s early exploration of the capabilities of big data. Who knows what else is to come?

So, let the jury remain out on the relationship between the U.S. government and big data. Do not condemn it because of one, admittedly shitty, aspect. Wait a little bit, and you just might be surprised where our relationship with big data made lead.

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