Big Data, Big Government, Big Brother

What is the Federal Government trying to do?

On its face, the same thing it has always done: law enforcement and foreign intelligence. But now it has a lot more tools. Gathering reams and reams of “meta-data” about phone calls, emails, social-media postings, credit-card purchases, and other digital activity sounds pretty creepy. We know that companies want to predict and manage what we do—it’s called marketing. But when the government does it, what do we call it?

It’s not like this is something new. The Feds have been buying commercial databases for years, looking for predictive patterns to help them unravel terrorist plots and other threats. Buying data allows agencies get around certain legal restraints. Yes, I want to be safe from terrorists. But no, I don’t want people from the government snooping into my personal affairs.

There’s a trade-off between security and liberty, as anyone who has flown knows. But it’s Ben Franklin who once noted that “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Let’s hope we can figure out what’s truly essential.

Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA

Chief Investment Officer

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