Big Data and the Underground Railroad

Industry and government say “collect everything.” History suggests this is a bad idea.

We used to try to protect people at each stage of data processing—collection, analysis, sharing. Now, it’s collect first and ask questions later.

There is a moral lag in the way we treat data. Far too often, today’s discrimination was yesterday’s national security or public health necessity.

Over time, tens of thousands of runaway slaves would escape bondage on the Underground Railroad. How many of them would have made it in the age of big data?

In the spring of 1940, Japanese Americans received visits from census examiners. … by and large, Japanese-Americans cooperated with the census. After all, by federal law, census data was subject to strict use restrictions: The Census Bureau was required to keep personal information confidential. Their trust was misplaced

There was a time when it was essentially illegal to be gay. … These examples may seem extreme. But they highlight an important and uncomfortable fact: Throughout our history, the survival of our most vulnerable communities has often turned on their ability to avoid detection.

Privacy is a shield for the weak.

Source: Big Data, Underground Railroad: History says unfettered collection of data is a bad idea. by Alvaro M. Bedoya