July 2013 Infrastructure Committee: Personal Data – where to start?

At this month’s Infrastructure Meeting, we revisited questions of privacy and personal data, as well as the proposed MA sales tax that’s currently on the table.

Personal data is a Pandora’s box. The information is out there, and there’s no way to get it back. What we can manage is new data, and educate people on the risks of handing over information.

Every technology comes with risks. We know that when we drive our cars, there are risks. The benefits far outweigh the risk, so we drive. The same is true of our information systems.

The big difference between these examples is education. Before we drive, we learn. In the digital community, we learn as we go. We don’t have the same depth of experience and education. We teach ourselves, without learning or understanding best practices.

Data management and security is a moving target. We have so many things that collect our personal data, and these things have more features than most of us could possibly need (or understand). Our phones, our cars, even our electric meters collect information. Do we know where it’s going, or what it’s being used for? Do we know how to lock down security on each device (geo-location on the cameras in our phones, for instance)? Do we care? Not all data collection is nefarious.

At the Infrastructure meeting, we discussed some of the things we’ve found useful, made possible by data collection and crowd sourcing. We avoid traffic jams, regulate our energy consumption and compare prices on things we shop for online. We don’t always mind giving up information, when it’s helpful. We need to be educated so we give our information with our eyes open.

One of the things we discussed presenting to the board is using an aggregation service like scoop.it as a way to disseminate information. We also want to look at what other organizations are doing. Do they have a process for protecting information?

It’s not just our own information that’s potentially not secured. If you are in business in Massachusetts, you come under some of the most restrictive security regulations in the country. Is the information you’ve collected safeguarded?

We need to be retrained. People have learned their behaviors, and they’re not safe. We need to teach smart use. As the digital community grows, new risks will be discovered. There are predators, but if things like free Wifi at our libraries is locked down, then people with no home access don’t have a place to connect.

MA Tax update:
It doesn’t seem like the fight is over. News of the proposed sales tax has been in the Boston Herald, Boston Globe and MetroWest Daily News. The MA Taxpayers Association is also asking for alterations to the proposed tax.¬†We will propose to the board that the Tech Council draft a letter to the MA Taxpayers Association. At the very least, the definitions need to be clarified.

What state would you incorporate in? Not one with a tax you wouldn’t pay in another state.



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