Pittsburgh Technical Council

Who’s Watching the Watchers?

Who’s Watching the Watchers?

Article Published: February 13, 2015

By Robert S. Seiner, Contributing Writer, @RSeiner

This is the first installment of a new column titled “It’s all in the Data” from a Pittsburgh expert in the data field. The focus of this column is to get you, the reader, to look at data differently, to expand your perspective on the importance of data both business and personal. Data is an integral part of everyday life and the value, advantages and disadvantages will be discussed through this column. Welcome aboard!

I received a traffic ticket today. Actually I broke the law several weeks ago but I just received the ticket. This may have happened to you. I accidentally drove through an EZ-Pass lane on the turnpike when my GPS told me to stay left. It’s all in the data.

The Turnpike Commission snapped a picture of my license plate, at 55 mph or so, when they determined I did not have an EZ-Pass to recognize. It took a few weeks but they connected my name and address to my license plate and they sent me a court summons. I wrote them back to say it was unintentional and I paid the toll. They never contacted me again, so far. I guess all is good.

This scenario led me to think about how our privacy is limited and how every move may be monitored by somebody. In most cases this does not disturb me. I start to think about my mundane life and wonder why anybody would care about where I am or what I am doing. I am a law-follower and I guess I can be pretty certain that if I break any traffic laws I am going to get nailed. I go through the “Cash” lane now.

Have you had this happen to you? Are we watched all the time and by whom? What are “they” doing with the data they are collecting? How did authorities find the Boston Marathon bombers so quickly and how did they determine who ambushed the PA State Troopers in rural Pennsylvania last year when there were no witnesses? What “they” know about every move we make is annoying at best and disturbing at worst. Whether we permit this type of surveillance is not an issue readily up for debate. We have passed the point of “know” return and what “they” know is not going to decrease any time soon. In fact, exactly the opposite is happening. It’s all in the data.

The question I have is: “Is anybody governing how and when my data is being captured, who is allowed to get their hands on my data, who they can give my data to and how my data will be purposed?” Is it even really “my” data anymore? The answer is “No” and never was. I certainly do not think its use is being governed.

In your business and personal life, you are told the rules for how to collect, use and share data. You are expected to follow the rules or suffer the consequences. People are told to protect their data, shred documents, have different passwords for each account, and protect passwords/account numbers, while we leave it up to others to protect our personally identifiable and personal health data, or even where we are at any point in time. There is certainly a leap of faith. Nobody is surprised by daily news of data breaches. If you build a 10-foot wall to protect your data, someone will climb a 12-foot ladder.

What does this have to do with you? Should you be concerned about who is watching and the data that is being collected about you every step you take, every move you make? Should you only be concerned if there is reason for someone to use that data against you legally or personally? Should the concern be how that data is being governed by the people that are collecting, analyzing and using it? The answers to all of these questions are “yes.” It’s all in the data.

Organizations implement formal data governance programs to assure that all staff that handles data knows the rules associated with the data. These rules include business rules, compliance rules, classification, privacy and sharing rules associated with the data. These rules are authoritatively enforced. It is no longer a question of who is accountable for protecting the data; everybody must be accountable. That includes those people who are collecting data about us every way they can. But who is watching them? It’s all in the data.

Bob Seiner, of Pittsburgh-based KIK Consulting & Educational Services (KIKConsulting.com), is a specialist in the fields of data governance and information resource management. Bob has worked for many notable organizations locally, nationally and globally in industries as varied as education, healthcare, finance, insurance, manufacturing, distribution and energy. Bob has a unique approach to assisting organizations to manage their data and information better. Bob can be reached for consultation or interview at rseiner@kikconsulting.com or 4122.220.9643.

Copyright © 2015 – Robert S. Seiner

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