Thoughts on “Government Data and the Invisible Hand”

It was quite interesting to read this ten year old paper in 2019, when so much has changed in our technological and digital worlds. The authors focus on increasing citizens’ access to governmental data, an issue which I personally do not hear much about in today’s conversations about governmental data. Whether this is because the Obama administration did work to make data more accessible to citizens and succeeded, or because most citizens do not care about the sort of governmental data that could be but is not publicly available, I do not know. Regardless, this paper’s focus on a greater access to governmental data does not address one particularly significant concern in the present day, which is whether or not our government has too much data on us. In that sense, frankly, it has not aged well in my mind because it does not discuss a well-known and well-defined 2019 problem. However, as mentioned above, this may be due to the authors’ concerns having been addressed in following years. I may be in a privileged position, having the ability to discount the problem of too little governmental data being available to the common user because it is a problem already solved. Regardless, the focus of the paper – or rather, the lack of focus of government surveillance and how much personal data the government has on private citizens – raises several questions for me, someone not familiar with debates about surveillance and data. When this paper was written in 2009, were the authors’ concerns about governmental data not being available to users reflected outside of academia at all, in the general population? Was this concern greater than that about governmental surveillance? In addition, how have socio-technological changes between 2009 and 2019 (one that immediately comes to mind is the widespread usage of smartphones) impacted not only how the government can use our data but also our concerns about the government and data? Once again, such questions are beyond the scope of this blog post, but I’ll be sure to bring them up in class if they are relevant to our discussion.

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