Policy and big data

Big data is here to stay. The debate must be about how best to utilize it while safeguarding citizens’ rights, not about why it should be ignored


The income-tax department’s “Project Insight”—using PAN details to monitor fund flows across accounts and identities to target black money—has been on the anvil for a while. The first phase could see daylight this year, possibly with details revealed in the budget. If it does, it would be a welcome and unfortunately rare instance of the government utilizing big data analytics. This is a must in a country like India, given the scope of its policy and implementation challenges.

And it’s also why the prolonged Aadhaar debate sometimes seems like a case of missing the forest for the trees. There must be legislation to protect an individual’s right to privacy, certainly. But to oppose Aadhaar on those grounds is to deny use of the single best tool available for development and poverty-targeting policies. Big data is here to stay. The debate must be about how best to utilize it while safeguarding citizens’ rights, not about why it should be ignored.