Police surveillance in the age of Big Data
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The advent of Big Data in today’s digital age has generated both enthusiasm and fear. The enthusiasm springs from the newfound uses of data analytics which can help firms and governments operate better. The fear relates to concerns about an Orwellian state which now has the tools to monitor our private lives. A recently published research paper on the use of Big Data in policing sheds fresh light on both these aspects. The research paper, based on a close study of the Los Angeles Police Department by Sarah Brayne, assistant professor of sociology at University of Texas in Austin, shows that the use of Big Data analytics has helped the department act proactively to counter crime threats rather than reactively to crimes. The use of such analytics tools has also allowed discretionary assessments of risks to be supplemented and quantified by risk scores. Yet, the advent of Big Data analytics in policing has also meant that a much wider section of the public is now under surveillance than before.
Intelligence from Big Data analytics can also help break stereotypes in the police force regarding the criminal bent of certain communities. But depending on how such analytics are deployed, it may also have the opposite effect of strengthening biases, Brayne argues.
Also read: Big Data Surveillance: The Case of Policing
Technology is often seen as a silver bullet in the field of education but evidence for its impact is scanty. New research by Maya Escueta from Columbia University and co-authors found very little improvements in learning outcomes when students were merely given access to a computer. Students show bigger improvements in learning outcomes when face-to-face interactions complement the use of computers, the research suggests. Online learning was found to be effective only when accompanied by face-to-face interaction.
The share of the top 1% in India’s income pie is higher than ever before, according to a new research paper by Lucas Chancel and Thomas Piketty from the Paris School of Economics. Their analysis is based on historical data from tax sources, surveys and national accounts statistics. The current share of the top 1% in national income is at its highest level (22%) since 1922. This share had declined from 21% in the late 1930s to less than 6% in the early 1980s. From 1951-80, the bottom half of India’s population experienced an increase in their share in overall national incomes, while this declined for the super rich (top 0.01%), suggest the economists. Between 1980 and 2014, the situation reversed. The authors call for more redistributive policies and also demand more transparency in publication of income statistics.
The government intends to extend crop insurance coverage in the country to 50% of farmers by 2018 from the current level of 26%. An Economic and Political Weekly paper by Subhankar Mukherjee and Parthapratim Pal from the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta raises questions about the feasibility of this target. Using data from the National Sample Survey Office and the Agriculture Insurance Company of India, the authors show that only 7% farmers had availed of crop insurance in India in 2012-13. Given the low growth in crop insurance coverage between 2001 and 2013, they express doubts regarding the achievement of the 50% target by 2018. The paper praises the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana for standardizing premium rates and for introducing technology. But it calls for addressing problems such as lack of awareness among farmers and delay in claim settlement to improve insurance coverage.
In a recent blog post, researcher Pratik Datta has warned that the ambiguities present in the Indian Bankruptcy Code (IBC) could hamper the law’s intent of simplifying the bankruptcy process. For example, the Bankruptcy Law Reforms Committee had made a case for only two categories of creditors, financial and operational, for the purpose of corporate insolvency. However, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India created a third category of creditors. Many commentators have argued that flat buyers, who typically pay an advance to the real estate company, should be considered under this third category. However, Datta points out that previous legal statements have considered flat buyers as consumers. In such a case, if a real estate company faces insolvency proceedings started by a bank, the buyers’ properties could be excluded from being claimed by the bank. Datta argues that the central government should step in and streamline the law to end the current confusion.
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