ACTING Prime Minister Colm Imbert said big data has the potential to either improve the operations of a government or dictate a political outcome at the polls which could cause a government to lose office.
He made these observations during a session on day two of the virtual UN-TT Big Data forum on Wednesday. Imbert said it is important to strike the right balance between the pros and cons of big data, to ensure it is used for the benefit of all.
Imbert cited examples in China, India, and Ireland where big data is being used to improve governance systems in those countries in areas such as public transport and business engagement. He said Government recognises all the advantages that can come from the effective use of data to inform decision-making.
"Ensuring sustainable development calls for innovative ideas utilising new and multiple sources of data for more effective economic and financial modelling."
Imbert relies on big data in the preparation of the budget.
"I rely on a lot of data to guide us as we project revenue for the coming year. In particular, big data is the foundation for estimating oil and gas prices and production, which are essential elements of our budget process."
Big data can also be useful in providing real-time information with respect to things like tax collection and issuing official documents. With real-time data at their disposal, government agencies can make more informed decisions, improve their services and take appropriate action quickly.
Several government ministries are currently pursuing several digitisation exercises to improve their operations.
Imbert cited the Agriculture Ministry's development of geospatial programmes to identify agricultural spaces in Trinidad and Tobago and the new Digtial Transformation Ministry's efforts to create a digital identity for all citizens and residents, as some examples.
With respect to the latter and other initiatives such as the digital society and economic programmes being pursued by the Digital Transformation Ministry, Imbert said most of those and other digital initiatives must be completed by December 31, 2022.
"The potential for big data to transform government is vast."
But Imbert warned big data has some disadvantages. He reminded participants that in 2016, British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica "was found to have misused individual electronic data for the purposes of interfering with the electoral process of various countries."
In November 2019, Government announced that an investigation would be held into Cambridge Analytica’s alleged role in the UNC-led People's Partnership coalition general election campaign in 2010. The investigation was based on allegations made by Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Chris Wylie.
In May 2020, then commissioner of police Gary Griffith announced the investigation's closure, after police were unable to contact Wylie.
Imbert said, "It is essential that any big data ecosystem also includes measures to prevent abuse. Users’ rights will remain at the forefront of any policy governing big data."
To that end, he vowed that government would engage in legislative review to ensure instances of potential for abuse with big data did not arise.