And then the Premier said, "Let there be open data." And the data was open, and it was good.
Chinese officials have always been obsessed with numbers and statistics. So it's natural that the "big data" trend that will allow them to collect numbers on everything and everybody has got them really excited. Chinese officials are also obsessed with secrecy, so a pronouncement from China's premier that government-held data should be open is...um...revolutionary.
A news article, "Li Keqiang's Declaration on Government Data: Open!" appearing on numerous news sites this week is the communist version of scripture that has now proclaimed open data "good."
The parable-like story describes Premier Li Keqiang's participation in a Shandong Provincial delegation's review of the government work report at the Naitonal Peoples Congress on March 6, 2015. One of the delegates was Sun Pishu, the chairman and communist party secretary of a cloud-computing company. When Sun made a suggestion that government data should shared and open to the public, Premier Li "made his attitude clear" by blurting out, "Your suggestion is good!"
According to the article, Premier Li has endorsed big data and cloud computing on numerous occasions since last year, describing it as a major trend. During a visit to Sun Pishu's company last year, Premier Li saw big data and pronounced it good.
Sun noted that various levels of government are collecting a lot of data on everyone and the government holds 80 percent of the data being collected in over 3000 databases. He went on to observe that some developed countries open their data as a strategic move. He claimed that western medical services and manufacturers achieve great cost savings through making data open.
As soon as Sun finished his remarks, Premier Li offered a rejoinder: "Government’s
data should be open. Apart from data that is required by law to be kept secret, data should be as open as
possible in order for cloud computing companies to offer social services and improve
government decision making and regulatory services."
The article said that Premier Li's utterances attracted attention inside and outside the venue. The good news was spread far and wide on web sites. People in the room began whispering about the pronouncement.
"Compared with commercial organizations, it's not easy for the government to open its data," lamented one person attending the meeting.
But the unnamed delegate continued, "I believe the Premier's advocacy of openness today opens a new chapter in the country's governance of big data."
We might translate this into plain English as follows: "We are going to collect lots of information about you, and you will like it because we will be able to keep you under tighter control."
Chinese leaders probably think that collecting data on everyone and everything will justify the rule of wise leaders. A blizzard of numbers alone will not help anyone make better decisions. Moreover, "big data" is no better than "small data" if people don't know how to interpret the numbers and think about them logically.