In my June 12 letter to the editor, “New international order versus nature,” I parenthetically said that I hope Yoichi Funabashi was joking when he wrote in praise of “data government” (“Time to build the post-pandemic world order,” June 9).
He asserted that societies with data government, when “supported by citizens,” will “emerge as ‘developed states’ in the age of dataism.”
A moment’s reflection will tell us that citizen support may not — probably will not — occur, that “dataism” is a faddish mirage, and that instead of “developed states” we’ll probably witness the rise of algorithmic authoritarianism.
Dataism might be attractive as a conceptual toy. Data, though fragmented, are neutral and can shed light on complicated issues if intelligently organized and analyzed.
However, government leaders in both the United States and Japan have shown themselves to be allergic to data. Both countries, for reasons of their own, have dragged their feet on testing for the novel coronavirus.
More data on the spread of COVID-19 infections, intelligently organized, could show that the governments of both countries have made serious public health errors.
Data may be neutral, but they originate somewhere. The collection and use of personal data exploit the producers of those data. Google and Facebook collect enormous amounts of data about their users that are then sold to data brokers. People whose data are collected receive no compensation.
Do government leaders want data collected and analyzed to evaluate their performance? Should the number of miles flown by government jets be used to set benchmarks for diplomatic and trade outcomes?
Though imperfect, governments of the people, by the people, and for the people tend to preserve the wishes of citizens, voters and taxpayers.
In a democracy, don’t we get the government we deserve?
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.