Ramiz Ayaz Malik

To know and be informed is human nature and nothing can ever satisfy this particular need and want of knowing and being informed more. We are always hungry for information and shall remain so. The very hunger and desire for this attribute drove the simple phenomenon of knowledge towards recording and storing it. Both for later usage and for reference. Data is knowledge stored ready at hand for instant usage or reference. The more the knowledgebase the bigger the database.

Be it any sphere of life, the most important aspect for the masses is information. Information gathering is an art – a science – but most importantly it is assembling all possible information and filing it accordingly in slots. The first paper sheets that got filled with public opinions were the foundations of today’s data collection.

As dry and boring it may sound, this is what Data collection is and almost everything revolves around it today. It is data that makes us decide what or what not – to act upon or not. The data gathered since science of information collection and dissemination saw its dawn, transformed from archives on papers to digital storage with the advent of what we all are well aware of – the information age, starting with computers furthering to the internet.

Today, the evolved methods of – database figures decide what is to be done and how to approach people, in which manner and in what desired styles, that will be acceptable to the individual and people on a collective scale.

But what exactly is data? As the famous 4Ws of advertising explain it perfectly: Who, What, Where and Why. All of that sewn together in a very methodical manner is data. Initially, dependent on manpower – a tedious and cumbersome task – the digitization and ‘connectivity of things’ made it easier to collect information and to deliver it.

Information is a subjective term here because ‘communication’ also is directly connected to data collection and usage. Not all data that is collected is for the commoners or shall we say consumers. What is dished out is the selected information driven by influencers and opinion makers. The real treasure is the individual information that defines every person worldwide.

Data collection which has billions of dollars invested in it since almost five decades has reached its peak active levels now with Artificial Intelligence assisting it. It is now usable in unique methods unimaginable to generations of the past. Almost, every company in the corporate sector collects user data and information to ensure better services and ease for their customers/consumers.

Like everything, data collection has both good and bad points. Where it is intrinsic in ease for both providers and customers – if hacked or stolen/misused – the same data can be used for any activity untoward the productive. It is, therefore, important that it be collected and stored in high security servers as it is need of the day.

Almost all of us are aware of what database is and how it can be gathered through everything available on our handhelds including connectivity tools essential to everyday life. When we are only ‘so’ willingly giving out our information for usage why even bother thinking if we are private on our connectivity devices? Once we log on we are logged onto relevant servers providing our data for our very own convenience. Simply put, it is an open world. Once we log on for any service. All of our usage and lifestyle patterns are uploaded and that is data. This is the very reason why companies like Uber, Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook, etc., and other Internet giants invested heavily in data mining.

The question arises, whether collected database is being used safely? Is it used for development and helping people on a collective level? That alone is a million-dollar question. It is so because myriads of its tentacles can grasp the knowledge for many unwanted activities as mentioned earlier. It is used primarily for security and research like we saw in the Seoul Olympics this year. But the very data that was used for the aforesaid was acquired by hackers who tried to over-ride the security measures in Korean Olympics but were checked in time. So, yes, we do have the capability to check any large-scale-database misuse. However, the matter is not a 100 percent. The Hilary email leaks was an example of database leaking. Conjuring up such tricks is part of the package when it comes to technology development and database used for security and research on governmental levels.

Companies also invest in securing data as the wave of information surges every day. But does it matter to an average user of technology? Not really. No one has much to hide and the ones snooping for information are not really ever looking to target the common man/woman. They want something that is a chunk worth a lot. For this very purpose the CEO’s and parent organizations of IOT (Internet of Things) and online giants take multiple security measures towards protection of their user’s data.

The recent debate over the data leakage of NADRA lists rightly became a countrywide issue for the media to talk about and debate over. The primary question that arose was if at all, the entire or a chunk of that data got leaked, ‘how’ it would be useful to anyone? Aptly, the authorities addressed the matter. If the address was soothing or appeasing is something the masses choose for themselves as their opinion.

Reiterating the main issue and question of how NADRA data could be useful to anyone has a very simple answer. It is security related. The data that NADRA holds and guards holds every bit of information about every registered individual with a National Identity Card. That means every person from every demographic in the country with a NIC is a voter or a prospective voter (keep prospective in mind). The details are all present in the database. The said database here is the name, family number, ethnicity, religion and sect – members in that family and all that is related in verifying an individual along with every connected person to that individual connected through alphabets and numbers. Let us just say that this data is the DNA of a nation both politically and security-wise, as it is also used in ascertaining the population of a country. This alone explains how sensitive it can be.

This is key information for any group to benefit from, if attained by them, towards tampering regional or national level elections, referendums or population numbers or predicting future moves of a voter or how that voter or prospect acted the last time when any activity where collective mass decisions were made by hordes of people.

Data that identifies, verifies and elaborates information about an entire family is not just the ‘regular – name and email’ data gathered by any random website but highly sensitive and in-depth information that is of utmost importance and should be kept as secure as possible. This same information can be used for any purpose from opinion making to campaigning to tampering results of any electoral process.  Such sensitive data/information is of highest value in a country.

When it comes to national security cards for identification, data is the key to verify the person, place and many other things that can be useful for myriads of purposes. As long as this data is in secure hands it is assured that it may not be misused but if leaked or breached, it can be a high security risk. In the wrong hands it shall only make it too easy to know how to approach the demographic and inter-geographic circles where votes and voters matter. This may lead to what is popularly termed as rigging. An example is the debate in the US senate regarding Facebook data and accounts used for the elections last year. The hue and cry that took place over that data made the CEO of the giant company appear before the Senate.

Data is the key that opens many doors for anyone who may want specifics regarding individual or collective information about people and their trends of mind and influencing any outcome related to it. It is guarded similar to gold reserves and the good part is that mostly it is safe. How safe? That is the question which might never have a guaranteed answer because after all it can all be just transferred anywhere within seconds. This is why authorities store it in high level secure servers globally.

No wonder, recently the political parties raised the issue if this very data was secure or not, keeping the upcoming Pakistani elections in mind. It is assumed and assured by the relevant authorities that Pakistan’s database is safe now. For now, we will have to rely on the word of the relevant authority.

Ramiz Ayaz Malik is a strategist for digital and advertising platforms and a former deputy editor for a media group.