Privacy Concerns Threatens Survey Research
In previous posts I’ve called for courts and justice systems to be good stewards of performance data. And, as an advocate of radical transparency, I’ve pushed for self-assessment and accountability by means of regular and continuous performance measurement and management instead of reliance on periodic third-party program evaluation and research.
Now comes another good reason for courts and other justice institutions to go that route. As reported by Carl Bialik, Census Gets Questions on Mandatory Queries, the Wall Street Journal’s “Numbers Guy,” members of Congress are challenging the Census Bureau’s massive data-collection effort known as the American Community Survey. The survey uses dozens of detailed questions – including the use of carpools, flush toilets, and wood fuel – to help determine the need for and distribution of funds of various government programs. The survey, which reaches 3.5 million households, is mandatory, a fact that gets close to 100% of the people to respond and a necessity for maintaining the survey’s validity, according to the Census Bureau and its supporters, including the American Association for Public Opinion Research and the American Statistical Association.
The congressional challenge, including presidential candidate Ron Paul, rests on privacy concerns. “The freedom of the American people from unwanted government intrusion into the private lives and affairs is a higher priority than the quality of the government’s data,” the Wall Street Journal quoted a Ron Paul spokesperson as saying.
Good stewardship of performance data, in my view, requires courts and justice institutions not only to collect data on the right measures but, first and foremost, to integrate performance measurement and performance management with good governance. They need to have the right delivery of the performance data, which means getting it into the hands of the right people in a totally transparent and accountable manner that ensures the right use of the data. Privacy issues and non-disclosure of protected data are best determined and implemented by judicial branch policymakers as part of the development of an effective performance measurement and management system. Unpleasant surprises, such as that facing the Census Bureau, might be minimized, if not avoided altogether, by such an approach.
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