In today’s digital world, many people have become more worried about the possibility of having government agencies track them. Considering the controversy surrounding the leak of NSA programs that target U.S. citizens, these worries are not without reason. With the explosion of big data technologies, it has become easier than ever for governments to keep track of what their citizens are doing. It’s all in the effort of protection, at least in most circumstances, but it does have the feeling of violating personal privacy. But what if the citizenry were able to turn the tables on this type of tracking and instead use big data to keep a closer eye on the government? This idea is starting to gain hold among many organizations intent on keeping government institutions as free as possible from corruption. In a sense, this new movement is keen on watching the watchers.
There’s no single way to keep track of government activities, but one of the most promising uses big data analytics to closely monitor new laws written in legislatures all over the country. That’s the main idea behind FiscalNote, a company that looks to track lawmakers and the bills they introduce. The company provides a web-based service that helps watchdog groups and governmental affairs agencies know what laws are being written, who is writing them, and more. While this type of information has been available before, it’s important to note that this service places more context around each piece of legislation. Also factored into the equation is the career histories of the politicians involved in the lawmaking process, which way they lean ideologically, and what political networks they’re connected to.
With all this information at their fingertips, outside groups can get a better handle on the entire process of the creation of law. This allows them to hold lawmakers accountable for their decisions in more precise ways than before. Through the use of machine learning, cloud computing, clickstream data, and other big data technologies, groups can also predict the chances of an introduced bill becoming law. All of these factors (and there are many) are now neatly organized. Bureaucracies are reduced in complexity, and political processes and strategies are made more visible to normal citizens.
Of course, simply having the data at hand can only do so much to make the government more transparent. Insights have to be gained from that data. The same programs used to track legislation can also monitor and predict law-related trends. Specialized algorithms can parse the text, revealing nuances and aspects that might be overlooked by human eyes. The idea is to make all that data useful for people that are actually trying to use it. The need to understand every angle is greater than ever, and big data can make that all happen.
The goal of many companies and organizations promoting big data use to track government behavior is to help a citizenry become more engaged in what is going on in state capitols and Washington, D.C. Too often, the complicated inner workings of politics turns people off from the process, which makes government less transparent. But with the help of big data, citizens can become more informed. For example, big data technology can be used to go through budget items, revealing how money is being spent and the results of those efforts. If the data reveals wasteful spending or ineffectual results, an engaged citizenry can speak up, making governments more responsible for taxpayer dollars. It’s not just watchdog organizations interested in getting government data out there. Some agencies, usually from local governments, have also engaged in open data initiatives, making sure to place information in a convenient location for citizens to access.
The more governments understand that people are paying close attention to what they’re doing, the more likely they will try to behave in a more responsible and ethical manner. Big data is making all of this possible, though more work is needed for it to become a firm reality. A goal is clearly in mind, however, and organizations see the path they need to take to realize it. Big data is opening up these opportunities, and the result will hopefully be more transparency when it comes to politics.