Comedian George Carlin once observed that “the word ‘bipartisan’ means some larger-than-usual deception is being carried out.” This has certainly been the case in Congress recently, especially on education issues (case in point: the Every Student Succeeds Act, in which the Republicans proved they can “govern” by giving the Obama administration basically everything it wanted). Now congressional Republicans led by Speaker Paul Ryan are skipping down the bipartisan path yet again on the issue of Big Data and lifetime citizen surveillance.
Why do Republicans sometimes embrace the very worst schemes of the totalitarian Left? Can they not think through the implications of what they’re endorsing? In this case, the implications are extraordinarily dangerous to the foundational American principles of individual liberty and self-determination.
The vehicle for imposing expanded citizen surveillance is a new federal panel called the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking. The Speaker worked with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) on the legislation to create the Commission, which “is charged with reviewing the inventory, infrastructure, and protocols related to data from federal programs and tax expenditures while developing recommendations for increasing the availability and use of this data in support of rigorous program evaluation.”
The appeal of this Commission to “conservatives” is that it will recommend ways to evaluate federal programs and see which ones work and which are a waste of money We need a commission for this? If we just assume all federal programs are a waste, we’ll be right at least 95 percent of the time. And the federal government routinely ignores research, such as the massive evidence that Head Start is useless, that doesn’t support its preferred policies.
But “program evaluation” is the excuse. And the basis of the Commission’s work will be expanded sharing of personal data on American citizens. In a free society, that’s a price too high to pay.
The authorizing statute makes it clear that the Commission must explore new and exciting ways of sharing personal citizen data. The Commission is directed to:
“determine the optimal arrangement for which administrative data on Federal programs . . . may be integrated and made available to facilitate program evaluation, continuous improvement, policy-relevant research, and cost-benefit analyses by qualified researchers and institutions . . .”;
“make recommendations on how data infrastructure, database security, and statistical protocols should be modified to best fulfill” these objectives;
“consider whether a clearinghouse for program and survey data should be established and how to create such a clearinghouse”;
determine “which survey data [this] administrative data may be linked to, in addition to linkages across administrative data series . . .”;
determine what incentives may facilitate interagency sharing of information to improve programmatic effectiveness . . .”