Rep. Tim Huelskamp has been banging the drum on a proposed Health and Human Services rule that would mandate insurance companies share patient data with the federal government. The purpose of the program ostensibly noble – the administration wants to collect as much data on health care as possible to determine. But Huelkamp correctly notes that data is not always secure. Companies and governments lose personal data on customers and citizens periodically.
In a related story, Google revealed that the US government asks the search company for more user data than any other government on the planet. In fact, there were more requests for Google data than there were wiretaps on phones last year.
While Google may look skeptically on the government requests for information, the HHS program sounds like something out of Google labs – aggregating data about users of the health care system to ensure better future outcomes. Just as Google has multiple touch points where it meets its users (search, YouTube, Android, Gmail, etc.), so does the government. What if they started connecting the dots? We send tax returns in each year, so the IRS knows how much we make, where we live, whether we own or rent, what we do for a living. On a state level, readily available voter registration data tells them how often we vote and may even give them a good idea how we would vote, based on primary voting history. That doesn’t even get into people who participate in federal programs for medical help, student loans, social security, or public assistance. And it doesn’t take into account the possibility of government looking elsewhere for data. Today it’s Google, but a host of other companies are out there looking at what you but, what magazines you subscribe to, how often you gas up your car, and what TV shows you watch.
Eventually, other government agencies could follow the same model as HHS, expanding their data points on each citizen. That’s when it could get really interesting, especially if some enterprising staffer in some agency realizes all the information that’s pouring in. Imagine if the roadblocks between executive agencies came down, all the data was in one big pile? The administration could be an even more voracious consumer of data, and use if to create detailed analyses of national trends, attitudes, and issues. Here’s a video representation of how this might look:
A campaign or company wouldn’t use available data to recruit new customers or make life better for existing ones. When I go to Amazon or Best Buy’s website, they look at what I’ve bought in the past and make recommendations; it’s simply good business. An executive agency, which is supposed to strive for efficiency, would pick up on this trend as a way to streamline government services. The difference, though, is that if you’re creeped out, you can always shop somewhere else.