Constitutional amendment protecting the right to bear data


President Barack Obama signed 23 executive orders yesterday as an opening salvo for a more comprehensive approach to addressing America's appalling acceptance of death and violence over public safety and common sense--a result of adhering to the outdated language of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which has been rendered inadequate for the times and technology as they have evolved. Seven of those orders can benefit from the advancing capabilities of big data.

Much of the technical challenge presented by these orders is in the sharing of  data between disparate organizations and their databases. That's what big data does. Other challenges for the orders are interpretive, finding correlations and causations that could help the mental health community identify and treat at-risk patients. That's reportedly big data's other strong suit.

The president has asked for a requirement compelling federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system. He has requested the same from state agencies, or at least for providing incentives for states to comply. This should be part of the $200 million "Big Data Research and Development Initiative" announced in March of 2012. And there should be big data companies lining up at the doors of both houses in Washington, demonstrating (in presentation mode, not protest mode), how easy this is to accomplish.

Over the next two months, there are several big data symposia taking place in Washington. Perhaps these vendors should throw some sponsorship dollars at those events and show the wonks how it works.

President Obama also signed orders to address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which may prevent states from making information available to the background check system. Not that the anonymization of data is fool-proof yet, but big data solutions providers have done a lot of work in the health care arena already. Perfecting these techniques might make people more comfortable with sharing mental health indicators with the background check system. The National Rifle Association has already said it wants the mental health issue addressed. This is one way to address it.

A much tougher challenge is enacting the orders requiring federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations, and to develop and maintain reports on lost and stolen guns that would be made available to law enforcement. However, tough challenges are what big data was made for. This one does beg the question that often gets asked of big data: What are you going to do with all that data and all those reports? That could pertain here. What would we do with information on what weapons are missing? Still, whose rights is it trampling to keep a record of these weapons?

The last of the presidential orders that big data can address would actually be a welcome and true test of all the hype around the technology. We know it can help businesses make better decisions and it can improve processes in everything from ship building to emergency room operations, but can it uncover the underlying secrets of mental illness, which sometimes leads to violence and when enabled by easy access to weapons, leads to massacre?

Questions like this are in large part responsible for big data reaching the heights of notoriety that it has. Answering them would make that notoriety well deserved. - Tim