The Situation Report: When Big Data and Cloud Go Horribly Wrong

china data monitoring

Creepy Data

It’s no secret that my D.C. network of informants are concerned about the future of the Internet of Things and the potential for major tears in the social fabric if policy does not keep pace with technological development. But some members of the D.C. network have started sounding the alarm over China’s use of big data.

situation report logoOpen-source intelligence confirms that Chinese authorities have been hard at work during the last six months monitoring six pilot projects for the country’s new big data-based social credit system. It is an unnerving integration of financial credit data with a vast array of social data mining, including purchasing habits, friends, and interactions with authorities. Think of it as a credit score with a creepy twist. Get too many speeding tickets, and your score will go down. Spend too much time playing video games, and you might be considered lazy and unproductive, and your score will suffer. Associate on social media with people who have low “trustworthiness” scores, and your score will drop.

As creepy as that sounds, it gets worse. There will be penalties and rewards tied to these trustworthiness scores. Have a low Social Credit System (SCS) score, and you might find it hard to get a job, or the Internet speed at your home might be throttled back, or you might have to put up with more red tape at your local government agency when trying to get basic services. Keep that score high, and you’ll encounter far fewer speed bumps on the road of life.

One of the more insidious aspects of China’s new SCS score is the gamification of social control by encouraging people to monitor each other. That’s right, if you socialize with people who have low SCS scores, your score will suffer.

GSA’s Peace Corps Cloud

My remote listening post on the corner of 18th and F Streets in Washington, D.C., has picked up strong signals that the General Services Administration’s inspector general has a problem with the way the agency managed a 2014 cloud-based email pilot program at the Peace Corps.

Under the program, GSA provided the Peace Corps with cloud services and basic cloud computing applications, including email, calendars, document storage and management, and collaborative tools to create websites and communicate in small teams. But GSA represented the pilot program as a shared service without approval from the Office of Management and Budget, and that’s a no-no.

“Interagency shared services must be approved by OMB,” the IG’s audit report states. “GSA also used an agreement that was not designed to provide shared services and was not finalized until three months after services began. In addition, because the cloud email services were originally provided to the Peace Corps at no cost, GSA improperly cited the Economy Act as the authority for the services. Finally, GSA augmented the Peace Corps’ budget when it provided the cloud email services at no cost.”

Augmented the Peace Corps’ budget? Everybody knows that the augmenting of budgets in the Federal government is strictly prohibited! Wink-wink.

According to the IG, GSA provided the Peace Corps with $100,000 worth of cloud email services at no cost without obtaining the express authorization of the cloud service provider.

Opening Up the House Rules

My Capitol Hill intercept station reports that the House Rules Committee is warming up to the concept of open government. Committee Chairman Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, announced Wednesday that the House rules and manual are now available in XML format through the Government Publishing Office’s GitHub account.

“Chairman Sessions’ decision to publish the Rules as searchable, open XML data is a leap forward–not just for public transparency, but also for the conduct of House business,” said Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Coalition, which represents technology companies supporting open data in government.

“The House Rules Committee plays an essential role in how Congress functions, and publishing the Rules of the House in XML will empower the public to more easily access and analyze the House Rules,” said John Wonderlich, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for transparency in government. “This is a positive step toward a more transparent Congress.”

Dan Verton
About Dan Verton
MeriTalk Executive Editor Dan Verton is a veteran journalist and winner of the First Place Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for Best News Reporting -- the highest award in the nation for business/trade journalism. Dan earned a Master's Degree in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University in Washington, D.C., and has spent the last 20 years in the nation's capital reporting on government, enterprise technology, policy and national cybersecurity. He’s also a former intelligence officer in the United States Marine Corps, has authored three books on cybersecurity, and has testified on critical infrastructure protection before both House and Senate committees.
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