Smart Government and Big, Open Data: The Trickle-Up Effect

Anthony Townsend at the Future Now Blog: “As we grow numb to the daily headlines decrying the unimaginable scope of data being collected from Internet companies by the National Security Agency’s Prism program, its worth remembering that governments themselves also produce mountains of data too. Tabulations of the most recent U.S. census, conducted in 2010, involved billions of data points and trillions of calculations. Not surprisingly, it is probably safe to assume that the federal government is also the world’s largest spender on database software—its tab with just one company, market-leader Oracle, passed $700 million in 2012 alone. Government data isn’t just big in scope. It is deep in history—governments have been accumulating data for centuries. In 2006, the genealogical research site imported 600 terabytes of data (about what Facebook collects in a single day!) from the first fifteen U.S. censuses (1790 to 1930).

But the vast majority of data collected by governments never sees the light of day. It sits squirreled away on servers, and is only rarely cross-referenced in ways that private sector companies do all the time to gain insights into what’s actually going on across the country, and emerging problems and opportunities. Yet as governments all around the world have realized, if shared safely with due precautions to protect individual privacy, in the hand of citizens all of this data could be a national civic monument of tremendous economic and social value.”