Flip side (part 2)

January 27, 2015

In my previous blog on this, I noted a relationship between reducing “trivial” filings and decreasing public access to competitively useful data.

Now there is another example of a similar, conflicting relationship: that between increasing governmental transparency and decreasing personal privacy.

Consider a recent development in my home state of Pennsylvania. As a part of the movement toward (Internet) transparency of government operations (a “good” thing), the Commonwealth Foundation is now posting data on our local schools, including performance, spending, taxes and payrolls[1].

The site tells users that the site and its data can be used to

“Identify the highest paid employees in each county or district, or by job category…..Find a specific employee, and search by name, school district….Find out which school districts and job categories have the highest average salaries….Compare salaries for men and women with a district and job category….Choose a school district and see a PDF of their union and superintendent contracts….Do your own analysis of the data by creating a downloadable table from a combination of district, role, and job.”

Sounds great, doesn’t it? It will enable school boards and local taxpayers to compare what they are paying with what they are getting. It will also enable private and parochial schools to benchmark themselves against the public schools. And staff can compare salaries and even, possibly, spot sexual discrimination. But there is also a major cost in terms of personal privacy.

Consider this shot of the output of “employee search” tab:

Now, how about seeing your name up there with your position, school district, school, and total salary? Privacy lost in the name of transparency?

[1] http://www.openpagov.org/k12_payroll.asp. Note that the data is not current – yet.

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