Malaysia's Big Data challenge

There is a wealth of information in cyberspace and we need to ensure it is not used to harm our nation.

MALAYSIANS are generally unaware of the "Big Data" problem where their information is collected on a massive scale by companies like Google and Facebook and interested governments like the United States and Britain.
These entities harness massive computing power at enormous cost to capture, store, analyze and visualize data flowing in the Internet and cyberspace to spot business trends, improve quality of research, prevent diseases, combat crime and determine real time conditions in many applications such as roadway traffic, meteorology and genomics.
The results of this Big Data analysis in real time gives these companies and governments the power to predict the future and direct their resources to influence future global business , political and economy.
Today these entities are technologically advanced to influence events and people of our country from the outside.
Thus their "invisible hand" to meddle in the country's affairs poses a great national and personal security threat.
The question is whether our government and the people understand the potentially insidious capability of  these enterprises to influence the future of our country by building a useful personal profile of every malaysian who voluntarily hands over personal details to the cyberspace.
People are the country's most valuable asset. The development of the country depends on its people.
The government plays a role to provide the necessary physical and knowledge learning  infrastructure to develop it's human resource.
Before the invention of the Internet, the interaction between the government and its people was in one direction without significant feedback from the people.
The government used to formulate policies without reflecting the true desires of the people.
With the Internet and its social media tools, the people have been empowered to voice their opinions and interact instantaneously and that challenges our government to respond quickly to their needs.
Today any government that fails to read the data signals from its people is doomed to fail. The people want government policy and action to mirror their interests.
Therefore governments today have to devise a way to collect and comprehend the big data living in cyberspace today to get to know their citizens individually and respond to their needs better.
Our government needs to think big picture and improve its big data management capabilities.
Currently the government collects data on its citizens at various input points like the National Registration , Immigration and Inland Revenue Department and others.
The problem is this data is not current and not unified to enable the government to analyze it.
Another problem is the procurement of IT systems for the government is not centralized. MAMPU as the central government agency in charge of IT is unable to standardize systems specifications across government departments making the collection of  useful data difficult.
The government should take immediate action to collect as much information on its citizens by upgrading and making its IT infrastructure pervasive throughout the government departments that have interaction with the public.
This broad IT capability would also help the government to improve its financial and operational performance by recording every transaction and creating audit trails thus building the institutional memory databank for the government.
This IT infrastructure reduces reliance on human interaction and improves accountability in government.
Our national security interests are also compromised by the ability of certain foreign organisations to gather private information on our citizens.
The data profile of every citizen using cyberspace from birth can easily be retrieved today and any secret information concerning health and behaviour collected can easily compromise the integrity of a future politician , civil servant, security forces or corporate leader if the foreign power decides to use it against them and endanger national security.
Case in point being the US CIA chief who had to resign because his marital affair was discovered from his email conversation and deemed to compromise his position.
The sensational cyber spying revelations by ex-CIA agent Edward Snowden also heightened concern in our country's own cyber security
I would expect our government apparatus to be ready to protect its citizens' data privacy. But is it?
I was shocked to learn that the country's cybersecurity function is not unified under one central command.
I attended the ASEAN Japan Cybersecurity meeting in Tokyo recently where the Communications and Multimedia Minister, Dato Ahmad Shabery Cheek represented Malaysia
I was surprised to find that while his Communications Minister counterparts had control over their country's cybersecurity departments, our Minister did not as the department was under the control of the Ministry of Science and Technology.
I found this situation highly irregular and renders our cybersecurity effort ineffective because the control of cybersecurity is not unified under one minister.
To be effective in protecting government and personal citizens data the government needs to organize all the cybersecurity related government departments and it's regulator, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Communication under the Communications and Multimedia Ministry.
Only then would our citizens be better protected in cyberspace.
Maybe Prime Minister Dato Seri Najib Razak's recent visit to Google indicates a stronger interest by our leader to learn more about Big Data and it's consequences and formulate an effective national strategy to manage it finally.
In the rapidly changing world of technology, it's never too late to take action.

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