Viewed from outside the box, Big Data is essentially an advanced feature of the industrial-military complex in the service of profit and power.
Supreme court’s verdict on Privacy issue on 24th dec :
- Privacy includes at its core the preservation of personal intimacies, the sanctity of family life, marriage, procreation, the home and sexual orientation.
- Privacy also connotes a right to be left alone.
- Privacy safeguards individual autonomy and recognises the ability of the individual to control vital aspects of his or her life.
- Privacy is not lost or surrendered merely because the individual is in a public place.
The judgement puts a big question mark on the right of governments and corporations to collect, share, sell and manipulate personal data that may infringe individual privacy and dignity.
Further, The contemporary age has been aptly regarded as ‘an era of ubiquitous dataveillance, or the systematic monitoring of citizen’s communications or actions through the use of information technology’.
It is also an age of ‘big data’ or the collection of data sets.
These data sets:
- are capable of being searched;
- they have linkages with other data sets;
- are marked by their exhaustive scope and the permanency of collection.
- pose challenge to privacy interests emanating from state and non-state entities.
Aadhaar, touted as the world’s largest biometric ID undertaking, is Big Data.
Anthropologist James Scott documented in his compelling ‘Seeing Like a State’ that the state has always worshipped data, as it gives more power to the powerful, even if often at the expense of people’s happiness.
Big data seduces world leaders, political elites, multinationals etc, because of it’s supposedly strong powers. This is based on the premise that everything in the world can be captured in ciphers of 0 and 1, and that if we could capture enough of it, preferably all of it, we can rummage in it using algorithms and pull out non-obvious insights into practically every problem on earth—how to stop a terrorist, catch a tax cheat, etc.
But few others beleive that Big Data, together with artificial intelligence (AI), represents a massive disruptive engineering of the human soul with ominous and as yet unclear implications for notions of freedom, privacy, justice, moral reasoning and autonomy.
How Big Data is different from earlier data collections ?
- Sheer volume – 95 per cent of all data created since the dawn of human history was created in the past two years.
- High velocity – meaning data is being created in real-time.
- Greater variety – meaning it is both structured, such as credit card transactions, and unstructured, such as random browsing on the Internet.
Every time you go online, you leave traces of your presence in what is called digital exhaust, all of which, no matter how trivial, is stashed away as data.
Big Data represents a three-way shift in the way we extract truth about the world from data:
- Unlike the small data of sampling, Big Data deals with very large data sets, often including almost everything; and that too quickly, cheaply and at regular intervals to boot.
- In Big Data analysis, getting detail is more important than accuracy. So the messier and bigger the data, it is more likely to yield new insights.
- Aconsequence of the first two, Big Data does not care about causes; it merely looks for hidden patterns and correlations.
Indeed, nobody knows why Big Data sometimes works, or why at others it doesn’t.
Some argue that Big Data creates a state of seeing patterns where none actually exist, simply because enormous quantities of data can offer connections that radiate in all directions.
In Big Data parlance, both the state and the corporation are aggregators—the former aggregates power while the latter capital.
While Big Data could potentially yield new insights into pressing problems like air pollution, flooding in cities, sharing of river waters, or managing waste, the government seems more interested in catching crooks and criminals. This year it flagged off two projects—Project Insight, a Rs 10,000 crore worth attempt to catch tax evaders by tapping into data on income tax, bank accounts, and social media, and the Rs 2,000 crore worth Crime and Criminal Tracking Networks and Systems (CCTNS), which seeks to digitise all crime records in the country and use that data to make predictions about crimes, criminals and victims.
A study by the Bengaluru-based Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) of several schemes under the Modi government’s Digital India Project concluded that the project aims to enhance the delivery of services to the citizens at the cost of exposing their personal information to cyber security threats.
The report also raises red flag on informed consent as CIS investigations revealed that a large number of citizens were not clear how their personal data were being used.
Of late, as part of CCTNS, Delhi Police has been toying with something —it uses a software that mashes up real-time data from its 100 helpline with the satellite map of Delhi, maps it onto its crime data, and then spits out probabilities of crime in different neighbourhoods.
With CCTV profiling of crime-prone neighbourhoods, which tend to be mostly poor, policing by algorithm only ends up reinforcing old prejudices. It negates the very idea of the presumption of innocence, the principle upon which our legal system, as well as our sense of fairness, is based. (Remember the movie, Minority Report)
Snowden’s whistle blew the cover on how US National Security Agency (NSA) created a spy dragnet called PRISM that siphoned off personal data not just of Americans but also of people around the world from the databanks of giant IT and Internet companies like Google, Apple, Verizon and AT&T, and stashed it away in large clouds like the Utah Data Center.
In fact, the just-retired Union home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi told a parliamentary panel last month that, without their knowledge, 40 per cent of Indians using smartphones share their data with US intelligence agencies.
Being stripped of privacy is fundamentally dehumanizing, and it makes no difference whether the surveillance is conducted by an undercover policeman following us around or by a computer algorithm tracking our every move.