Bill English's big data grab

Finance Minister Bill English
Finance Minister Bill English

Bill English -- Finance Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and now prospective Big Brother; he wants to bring together the data held by 10 government agencies so that more can be known about Kiwis.

The agencies include health, education, social development, justice and Inland Revenue. It will create what he calls a "data highway".

He'll give government workers access to it, even on their smartphones, so they can draw information on people from multiple sources before making decisions that affect them.

The data has already shown New Zealand's 10,000 most vulnerable people will cost taxpayers $6.5 billion over their lifetimes.

"We're using the same tools that every other business in the world is using to understand much more about our customers," says Mr English.

Now the Finance Minister wants to go much further and use the information to target families and funding, like Facebook uses its algorithms to target adverts.

"We're not looking at reducing privacy or confidentiality," he says. "We're looking at sharing it."

The sharing is already well underway in what's called the Integrated Data Infrastructure, which already has 166 billion facts and 177 active projects.

Mr English is already using it to turn down funding for proposals in this year's Budget.

He says when it comes to at-risk youth, getting the full data picture could save lives. Social workers or other government agents could even access it by smartphone.

The big data plan is backed by Diane Roberston, formerly of Auckland's City Mission.

The contentious bit is of course privacy, but Mr English's message is simple -- we've got the data, let's use it.