New School Methods for Old School Tricks for Disappearing People

11942334_10153577638946575_8114869526653973585_oNew Orleans    In the age of “big data” we are led to believe that eyes are everywhere on all of us. All is known by the all-knowing. NSA is up our nose. It goes on and on.

Yet, somehow we are losing people.

We lost more than 400,000 people on certifications under the Affordable Care Act that was four times the number we lost last year. Ostensibly these are re-verifications of citizenship status, but of course the fine print indicates that people only had 10-days to reply and, trust me on this, many found the forms and requests mystifying, and so it is more likely that people simply dropped through the crack. One immigration health expert essentially said, “Really? who in their right mind would have risked being deported by filing for health insurance? Duh.”

You know who else is disappearing? The elderly it turns out. A group called HelpAge International says old people are slipping through the cracks by the millions. In fact they put out an annual Global AgeWatch Index, and report that almost half the countries in the world – 93 of them — have zero data to offer on their elderly. Worst, unsurprisingly, many of these are the poorest countries in the world where many of us would most like to have some information, including the United Nations which has made raising living standards a huge priority over the next fifteen years. In a Times’ article they mention that “Of 54 countries in Africa…there was enough data available to include only 11 in the index.” Even for the data available of course there’s bad news in that the “gap in life expectancy at age 60 between the countries at the top and bottom has increased to 7.3 years, compared to 5.7 years in 1990.” Talk about “aging out” once you get long in the tooth you just flat out disappear it turns out.  Who knew that was so easily accomplished in the age of big data.

Speaking about being invisible and besides the elderly we’re back to migrants and refugees. Running errands from the ACORN Farm someone on public radio was going on and on about whether the waves of people coming into European countries from Syria and the Middle East these days are refugees from the civil war or economic migrants. The reporter was arguing that this was a political issue, which it is, but fortunately by the end of the piece they admitted it didn’t change the fact that we had to do the right thing no matter what label was placed on it. Another commentator reminded the American listener that we needed to be careful tut-tuting since during the heart of the depression in 1930 we had forcibly removed an estimated one-million Mexicans, 60% of whom were American citizens, in a so-called “repatriation” to Mexico. These same pictures of people on trains would have been of US trains from Los Angeles and other cities to the Mexican border. This atrocity is news to many, if not most, of us.

The real solution to this invisibility problem for the elderly, poor, immigrants and others is not big data in all likelihood, but being willing to look around us in the first place.

 

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Too Much Data in Too Many Hands for Both Good and Evil

Word Cloud "Big Data"New Orleans      An observation decades ago always stuck with me. It was a comparison of Americans and people who live elsewhere. The point made by the author, whose name fittingly has long ago left me, is that we have too much information at hand and too little ability to process it. Ironically, that was then, and the observer would have been dumbstruck by the exponential increase of information now available to us and just about everyone else on the other end of hands pounding the keyboards, but some people have the ability to process it. What’s out there and who has the capacity to understand it though, still might leave us at the same point as a generation ago without the ability to use the tools effectively. Too many of us are at the Stone Age, while a few others are flying to the moon.

A case in point can be found with the new data on doctors and their paymasters, including and especially drug companies and others who would interfere with good judgment. Part of the Obamacare reforms are already tracking what various hospitals now charge for specific procedures, and starting in September, we will all have this information if we have access to a website. Excellent news! How many will be able to effectively access that data to make the choices that it promises and within the ACA, how many of the doctors a patient might want to avoid will be in or out of the network allowing the power of such information to give rise to voice and the threat of exit? Well, that’s a whole different question entirely, but today it’s safe to say, the information is more powerful as a selective threat from the government than a promise useful to many people.

More disturbingly is the availability of what some called “hyper-specific” community data. As the Times posed the question, if you…”Want to find a ‘family-friendly’ community within 20 miles of Boston with a high Asian population, a low poverty rate and a median home value of $400,000…” then there’s a bunch of websites for you! With some simple key strokes and a semi-passive real estate database and an agent steering you into its use, then you can effectively violate the Fair Housing Act and racially discriminate all day long. It’s not so much “redlining” anymore but it is a kind of data-mining discrimination that eviscerates Fair Housing, the CRA, and a host of other public policies.

We have police looking at broken windows in our cities as a deterrent, but no one should be able to look at personal computer screens due to privacy restrictions. Well not exactly, since a federal appeals judge just allowed federal prosecutors access to email and data records for a customer whose info was held at a Microsoft data farm in Ireland. We already knew there were no boundaries for the NSA, and it appears there are no foreign borders either.

It seems clear that the level of data now on everyone and everything and the ability of some, but not all, to access and process that data has outstripped our ability to regulate, legislate, protect privacy, establish and maintain rights and entitlements, and of course hold us safe and sound. We may not all be planning a trip to the moon, but we’re living on a planet and in an age that none of us truly understands anymore.

Just saying.

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