Every day we produce tonnes of unstructured data in increasing velocity and variety. This data is only as valuable as the applied insights derived from it, otherwise its collection and analysis becomes a waste of resources. At a recent BarCamp – “an open and participatory user-generated conference primarily focused around technology and the web” held in Nairobi at the epicenter of Kenya’s startup scene and dubbed “Who is your data’s daddy”, the issue of privacy came to the fore as a group of hacker’s demonstrated the ease with which systems and people are compromised. This led to an interesting debate on the place and dynamics of privacy in a digital world, amplified by the Kenyan governments push to digitize everything. The question remains, is there a way to use personal data without making the citizen feel exposed?
Collection and Curation
Citizens are consumers and businesses both large and small maintain their lists, whether in counter books, mobile devices or enterprise grade ERP’s and CRM’s. Mobile operators, more so after the move by the Communications Authority to register all SIM cards, probably have the most accurate citizen data, followed by banks and other financial institutions that required face time to provision services. Citizens are not unique in their consumption of services meaning there is a lot of replication of core consumer data, in varying quality and age. Government with its Public Key Infrastructure and Umoja Kenya initiative should work with a local consortium to build out the backbone of the unified view of the citizen cum consumer, to be hosted and supported in-country
Business and not government is the main user of citizen data, and this can be seen in the number of times one interacts with a core government service/function on a daily basis versus interactions with a business entity. It is therefore only sensible that a transparent way be provided for businesses to interface with this information. My optimal model for this is to have a number of verified entities, not exceeding ten granted a fire hose to this data. These entities will then provide the access on their platforms via API’s to the thousands of businesses that citizens patronize. Access to all data streams will be auditable both algorithmically and by a team of data scientists who can spot anomalies. The capability of these entities must be verified from an infrastructure and human resource perspective, with a license fee similar to that paid for spectrum applied to act as security should breach occur. The citizen cum consumer experience will vary greatly in their interaction with both government and commerce. Key will be to ensure that they are empowered to control the depth of access to their data by any entity including government; knowing who, how and why subsets of their data have been requested and for how long that data will be required.
Real privacy is an illusion and we can only build bigger moats to protect access to data and insights while continuously working on policy, processes and systems that allow us the comfort, convenience and efficiency of leveraging personal data without which we would find life taxing.