Friday, September 21, 2012

"The Politics of Sharing"

I attended a very interesting discussion this week at Microsoft, about the politics of information sharing. The topic was being explored from a local government perspective. It became clear that under the guise of "we are not allowed to because of the Data Protection Act" many local government departments and services avoid sharing information about citizens with other organisations, often to the disadvantage of the very citizens they are responsible for serving and protecting.  The real reasons for this was far simpler! The seagulls in Nemo are good exemplars!

It became clear that many of the representatives of the various bodies, organisations and advisors had missed two key points!
1) Not sharing causes more harm than good, (though there were some present who understood the dangers of not sharing, and that effective sharing can be good for citizens)
2) The information that they were refusing to share, was owned more often than not, by the very citizens that they were elected or paid to serve!

We had a number of discussions about some important mechanisms that need to be in place to enable sharing, such as the standardisation of definitions and standardisation of API's. We recognised that a more effective means of virtial identity was required, and that asset owners would also need to be able more effectively and efficiently manage entitlement and access to their data. One excellent point that was made involved the "value" flow in the transaction. Individuals would either be paid in cash for giving access to their personal information, or could benefit other ways that they would value. (I would allow the police to have access to my home alarm system information, if that meant they would respond quicker to an incident. I wouldn't expect them to pay me for access to such data!).

There was apparently begrudging agreement in the room around the concept of citizen centric data stores, there were however far too many individuals who preferred the idea of creating Government controlled citizen "Big Data" stores shared across multiple agencies, "All the better to control you with my dear!". The recent World Economic Forum's paper on the subject effectively signals an important shift. 

Imagine a local authority that provides each of it's citizens a personal data store and helps them create wealth from this personal data store (likely taking a portion of the income for providing the service and as a means of reducing local tax,) while at the same time using the data store to enhance the safety and security of those same citizens. Information stored in such local government personal data stores would only be data that relates to the business of local government. Other more sensitive data would be in more 'personal' Personal Data Stores. There are many businesses that would love to gain access to such local government information that for example details which houses have double glazing installed. This data may not always be used for wealth creation, as an example it might also be used in the context of supporting the  infirm and aged.

Imagine the "politics of sharing", in the light of an ecosystem that creates wealth for the individual citizen, reduces their local taxes and gives local business access to accurate and timely data that helps drive the local economy. 

Human Agency can be even further enhanced by the full and complete realisation of exactly whose data it is. Politicians and Regulators will do well to recognise that their focus should shift from being overly concerned about the details of privacy law, to the more fundamental and far more important issue of Cyber Agency.

After all it is the control over the curtain that gives privacy. Privacy is simply the result of being in control. So laws that encourage increasing the control by the citizen over their own data, and the development of Personal Data Stores, will be good for the economy, the individual, and society. So why are we not seeing such laws being enacted. My belief is simply that the power is in the hands of those that currently create wealth from our personal data, citizens rarely pay lobbyists!

What to do? The answer is simple : Ensure value flows to the individuals and organisations that created or own the data. Anything else is Data Usury.
Doing so will involve taking on those that would lose out from such a redirected flow, and remember, voters, the economy and society can all benefit.

The web will finally be able to do what it was designed for, creating a more open and egalitarian society. 

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