Governments around the world are busy building data systems to collect information on their citizens, and Wyoming is no exception. Data system supporters wax eloquent about the need to coordinate government services to optimize programs. However, the promise of better performance — if only they had more data — is, like many government promises, overblown. Wyoming is already collecting private information in state agencies, but if it looks at the experience in other jurisdictions, it will shut down the State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS).
The SLDS, what I like to call the data Leviathan, is the government’s latest project designed to mine your child’s data. To start, it will coordinate existing data systems such as those in the education, family services and workforce services agencies.
These systems hold a lot of information that already gets shared around. For example, Wyoming’s Department of Education’s system, called the Wyoming Integrated Statewide Education Data System (WISE), contains a unique record identifier for each student, test scores by year, graduation and dropout data, as well as a unique identifier for every school district staff member, among other things.
WISE connects data management applications within local school districts and shares data with the federal government. Your child’s data goes into the local school district’s data system and is then disseminated to other school districts. WISE captures, stores, organizes and reports your child’s education data, for one, because all states must report student data to the U.S. Department of Education under both the No Child Left Behind Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The rationale used for this privacy invasion is that it will, somehow, improve education.
It costs money to spread your child’s information around and potentially violate their privacy. The WISE database was developed and built between 2005 and 2010 at a cost of about $5 million.
Just to give readers an idea of how costs for a fully developed Leviathan will likely escalate, in its 2013-14 biennium budget request, the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) asked for an additional $3 million to expand the WISE infrastructure for “additional data projects that will be coming on board in the near future, like the [SLDS] which will place large demands on the data storage at WDE, a new educator licensing system and a new system to help place district staff.” After all, the report reasons, “support costs of those cooperative systems have gone up.”
Gov. Mead wisely rejected this request, which would have increased WDE’s WISE 2013-14 biennium implementation budget from $2.1 million to $5.3 million. Recall, the WDE spent $5 million over five years to set the system up in the first place. That is some cost escalation!
If one agency, albeit a large and complex one like WDE, needs $5 million over two years to add extra functions to mine data, imagine how much will be needed when the University of Wyoming, the community colleges, Workforce Services and other agencies jump on board.
At the moment, Wyoming’s data Leviathan is expected to cost $18 million in its first five years then more after that, if it works.
Governments in other jurisdictions that have tried to tie together different ministries into one big data Leviathan have spent millions on systems that don’t work.
For example, the Canadian province of British Columbia started to build a centralized data system that would join the databases of all the social services ministries to manage individual’s files between social programs. Sold as an easy-to-use system that would allow staff to spend more time working with clients than on data entry, it is expected to cost $182 million between 2008 and 2014. The idea was to allow frontline workers to spend more time with people in the social ministry system. Things haven’t worked out that way, though.
Both a July 2013 Final Assessment report and an outcry from the province’s Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond confirmed that the technical issues with the system have made it more difficult to access and utilize the data for the benefit of children under government care.
Government shouldn’t build some massive databank of children’s personal information held at the pleasure of the government of the day. It is a massive waste of money that will leave children’s personal information available to the federal government, identity thieves and pedophiles.