The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced number counting, percentages, graphs, charts, and complex algorithmic bell curves into our daily lives in an unfortunate and tragic way.
This 2020 pandemic coincidentally disrupts two very important American counting traditions within the same year, namely political elections and the decennial census. Both of these democratic processes and institutions are under threat of being upended this year in some form or another unless we are able to devise alternatives that will enhance our representative democracy without putting it on hold.
Similarly, COVID-19 data (contraction, testing, recovery, etc.) is desperately needed to set social, health, and economic timelines and policies.
It is time America developed a safe, secure, and anonymous electronic identifier for each American for counting processes beyond our Social Security numbers.
Ironically, 2020 may be the year that we set our sights on an enhanced vision of a democratic future using technology that is within our grasp today to develop the data number counting infrastructure of tomorrow. Curiously, this same infrastructure may help our country to provide proximate and national health information and statistics that will improve our ability to fight the invisible enemy as well as restart our economic engine in a strategic and intelligent fashion without compromising our privacy.
Getting to that point will take the utmost in American ingenuity in protecting people’s privacy while underpinning an accurate database-driven and strategic decision-making apparatus.
Using our smartphones
Imagine a future where your smartphone provides the same privacy of a voting booth but the convenience and accuracy of casting that vote “only once” remotely after authenticating your identity. The smartphone may also facilitate and support the accuracy of conducting the census or taking America’s medical temperature.
The question is this: Can America develop a web platform akin to those supporting our banking accounts that not only protect personal identities and data free from hacking but also facilitate the underwriting of our census and voting initiatives?
In this fashion, each of us would have an individually anonymous, yet traceable electronic stamp without divulging identity. It’s like seeing that you are stuck in a traffic jam on your GPS, but no one else knows it’s you in the jam. You are a widget.
We live in a world of usernames, passwords, security questions and answers, personal thumbprint recognition, as well as retina eye authentication. While Social Security numbers have served their purpose in the 20th century for the most part as personal identification numbers, they were never issued in the same fashion as current app and web platform accounts are generated in today’s cyber security world.
The divulging of Social Security numbers and birth dates has allowed identity theft to run rampant and compromise the filing of income taxes and damage the credit of many Americans over the past few years.
Thus, as a start, can we develop an electronic “geocoded census” to establish a baseline of data specific to each and every person?
Most people are familiar with the census, which has been conducted every 10 years in the United States. Such a process dates back to its initial practice by the Roman Empire over 2,000 years ago during Julius Caesar’s reign. The Romans did not care who you were but that you were, essentially a number.
Today’s census provides valuable data points of socioeconomic data for trending, profiling, and public policy purposes. The most popular census data points are related to population, ages, gender, income, and home values.
It is important to note while the data points are specific to a household, the numbers are rolled up and provided in an anonymously aggregated fashion for statistical purposes (by census tract, zip code, etc.). The resulting universal data support the bases for key trending analysis and invaluable insights for innumerable personal, commercial business, and public policy decisions.
Geocoded is a term used in Geographic Information Science that takes these data points and attaches them to a specific “cross-haired” location on earth at latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates. Simply put, these location points are equivalent to giving you an address on Earth. Similarly, cell and smartphones have their own “IP” address.
The US ranks 7th in the world with over 96% of Americans owning cellphones and 81% smartphones. These penetration levels are far greater than census or voter participation, 74% and 60% respectively. Smartphones can help “smart counting” by enhancing participation levels.
Currently, under the COVID-19 pandemic, the American public is practicing social distancing in public, masking while shopping, and/or quarantining if infected or recovering. The problem is none of these mitigating health practices are conducive to performing the decennial census or casting votes in an election year as in years past.
Under the present circumstances and timelines for the census and elections, there may be few alternatives to “in-person” counting other than to provide an e-commerce application so both of these processes can occur more efficiently and accurately through our phones, laptops, and/or computers.
Unlike the “20-20” year itself, which implies double counting, this alternative would assign each of us an “invisible” electronic address that authenticates us with our own certificate and license to make an accurate account of counting people and ballots on a per person/capita basis.
If each person’s personal identity and voting can be protected, then maybe our collective health data can be aggregated and analyzed for the greater good of countering this pandemic and more to come without giving up our privacy. In that way, 2020 can become a year that political polarity has its double vision corrected.
Joseph F. Consoli is a principal with iRealty Research. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.