Pri­vacy ad­vo­cates warn of Ohio mining of gov­ern­ment data bank

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY JULIE CARR SMYTH

COLUM­BUS, OHIO | Ohio is mak­ing plans to re­struc­ture its vast stores of gov­ern­ment data so they can be mined for pos­si­ble so­lu­tions to the state’s most com­plex prob­lems, an ini­tia­tive ex­perts say would be among the most sweep­ing of its kind by any U.S. state.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion of Repub­li­can Gov. John Ka­sich, a 2016 pres­i­den­tial con­tender, has spent months lay­ing the ground­work for the ef­fort. It would mark a new ap­proach to tack­ling stub­born chal­lenges in­clud­ing in­fant mor­tal­ity, opi­ate ad­dic­tion, hunger, dropout rates and un­em­ploy­ment.

Could missed ap­point­ments for gov­ern­ment­funded chil­dren’s eye­glasses help ex­plain lag­ging third-grade read­ing scores in some ar­eas? Has the guardian of an at-risk child, be­gun liv­ing with a new part­ner, in­creas­ing the chance of abuse? Are quicker re­cov­ery times for gov­ern­ment-cov­ered pro­ce­dures at some hos­pi­tals some­thing that should be repli­cated else­where?

Those are the types of ques­tions that could be in­ves­ti­gated us­ing state data, now col­lected by roughly 120 agen­cies, boards and com­mis­sions and stored in about 1,600 sep­a­rate elec­tronic in­for­ma­tion sys­tems. The plan would be to strip per­sonal iden­ti­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion be­fore us­ing the data to spot use­ful pat­terns, said Ka­sich spokes­woman Em­malee Kalm­bach.

“We will be reach­ing out to in­no­va­tive com­pa­nies to help us solve com­plex prob­lems,” she said.

A re­quest for pro­pos­als is ex­pected out soon. It will seek firms qual­i­fied in crit­i­cal ar­eas, such as ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy, the en­vi­ron­ment, public health, au­dit­ing, cy­ber­se­cu­rity and process au­to­ma­tion. Lin­ing up the firms won’t cost the state any­thing, Ms. Kalm­bach said. Firms would later bid on col­lat­ing and an­a­lyz­ing the data to­ward solv­ing spe­cific prob­lems.

“It would be very unique — and very hard to do,” said French Cald­well, an ex­ec­u­tive at Palo Alto, Cal­i­for­nia-based Met­ric Stream who has ex­pe­ri­ence in gov­ern­ment cy­ber­data.

Mr. Cald­well said mul­ti­ple le­gal pro­tec­tions are in place to block gov­ern­ment from shar­ing any per­sonal in­for­ma­tion — both with the public and among state agen­cies. In­for­ma­tion col­lected on vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions, in­clud­ing chil­dren, pris­on­ers and those with dis­abil­i­ties, have even greater pro­tec­tions, he said.

“You re­ally get into a very, very dif­fi­cult chal­lenge nav­i­gat­ing all the labyrinths of data pro­tec­tion and pri­vacy rules when you start try­ing to pull this data across si­los like that,” he said. “This is the U.S. We’re ter­ri­bly afraid of Big Brother here. That’s part of the cul­ture. From left to right, the one thing ev­ery­one’s afraid of is Big Brother.”

But Ohio’s ef­fort comes as gov­ern­ments are striv­ing not to be left be­hind in a data an­a­lyt­ics storm that’s per­me­ated on­line re­tail­ing, health care, pro­fes­sional sports and many other fields.

The Cen­ter for Dig­i­tal Gov­ern­ment reg­u­larly hon­ors gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties at the lo­cal, state and fed­eral lev­els that ef­fec­tively use tech­nol­ogy and data to do their jobs. Ohio was among five states to re­ceive “A” grades from the group this year. It has al­ready used sin­gle data sets to iden­tify trends, in­clud­ing low birth­weight ba­bies and ap­par­ent doc­tor shop­ping among pre­scrip­tion opi­oid users.

The Ka­sich ad­min­is­tra­tion be­lieves it has nav­i­gated the le­gal is­sues sur­round­ing cross­ref­er­enc­ing among agen­cies. Sim­i­lar, though far less ex­ten­sive, ef­forts have been suc­cess­ful in Min­nesota and In­di­ana, Ms. Kalm­bach said. She said Ohio of­fi­cials will as­sure data is anony­mous be­fore it leaves their hands.

A start on the larger ef­fort came Mon­day, when a state panel re­leased about $197,000 to a Florida firm to de­velop a data an­a­lyt­ics tool that can ac­cu­rately iden­tify child wel­fare cases with the high­est risk of “ad­verse child safety out­comes.”

Mr. Cald­well said the state may be tak­ing ad­van­tage of ex­cep­tions al­lowed when gov­ern­ment data is used solely for re­search pur­poses. But it will still be tricky to put the re­search re­sults to use, he said.

“I’m not sure we have the le­gal or reg­u­la­tory regime in place to be able to sup­port us­ing all of this data for pur­poses of de­liv­er­ing public ser­vices,” he added. “That’s one of the things state gov­ern­ments are go­ing to have to look at if they’re go­ing to go down this path.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ohio Gov. John Ka­sich is back­ing a state ini­tia­tive to mine stored data for so­lu­tions to stub­born is­sues like hunger, opi­oid ad­dic­tion and in­fant mor­tal­ity.

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