The consumer data industry knows how important it is to be right. For starters, accuracy is baked into federal law. Accuracy is our north star; it’s the light that guides everything CDIA members do. We know how to leverage diverse data elements to put together a picture that enables consumers to meet their credit needs, obtain the apartment they want, the job they are seeking, and more. We know how to get computers to talk to each other. When dots are not connected, especially by the government, the results can be infuriating at a minimum and dangerous at the outer end.
By contrast to consumer reporting agencies who know how to use data to benefit consumers, government databases cannot often do the same. For example, the “data collection infrastructure built by CBP contains sensors and computer networks, which hold what can easily be described as big data, [but] that [data] is, ‘data so large, varied and dynamic that conventional hardware and software cannot process it.’”
Matching people beyond just a name is critical for any sort of matching, like an applicant for public benefits, or an applicant for a job or an apartment, or an application for a credit card. When we cannot use other identifiers, like a DOB or a DLN, or other identifying information, problems occur. Take, for example, Sylvie Nelson.
Nelson was born in Canada but is also a U.S. citizen. Like many people who live near the border, she often travels back and forth between the countries to shop and stay at her second home near Montreal. In December 2009, she was heading home with her toddler son and 6-year-old daughter when U.S. border officers at Overton Corners, N.Y., handcuffed her and separated her, at least briefly, from her children. ‘They were still in their car seats. I was hyperventilating, as you can well imagine,’ she said…’ Subsequently, Nelson, who was then head of her local chamber of commerce, was detained several more times and once held in a cell.
. . .
She learned during at least five detainments that she had been mistaken for someone who looked very different from her: ‘It was an African American man. I’m Caucasian and a woman. Two hundred and fifty pounds, and I’m not 250 pounds. Tattoos. I’m not tattooed.’
While a rose by any other name may smell just a sweet, cross-checking people with identifiers helps to prevent mistakes and the horrors that may follow.
 Coulthart, Stephen and Ryan Riccucci . “Improving Big Data Integration and Building a Data Culture for U.S. Border Security.” Edited by Nate Bruggeman. Paper, March 25, 2021, 2 (citing Doug Laney, “3D data management: Controlling Data Volume, Velocity and Variety,” META Group Research Note 6, no. 70 (2001), 1).
 David Wallis, I was wrongly detained at the border. It’s part of a larger problem, opinion, Wash. Post, May 15, 2022.
Eric J. Ellman is Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Legal Affairs at the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA) in Washington, DC. He also served for eight months as Interim President and CEO of the Association. More