Computer Matching by Government Agencies: The Failure of Cost/Benefit Analysis as a Control Mechanism

TitleComputer Matching by Government Agencies: The Failure of Cost/Benefit Analysis as a Control Mechanism
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication1994
AuthorsClarke, R.
Corporate AuthorsXamax Consultancy Pty Ltd
Date Published11/1994
PublisherXamax Consultancy Pty Ltd
Place PublishedAustralia (AU)
KeywordsAustralia (AU), data matching

During the twentieth century, public administration has increasingly involved intensive use of data about individuals. The explosion of network traffic is making vast additional volumes of transaction data available. Monitoring of individuals through their data is both possible and much cheaper than conventional physical and electronic surveillance. As a result, data surveillance is burgeoning. Computer matching is a key facilitative mechanism in the monitoring of populations.

External controls over dataveillance activities may not be necessary if intrinsic mechanisms are adequate. Cost/benefit analysis (CBA) is a well-established means of assessing the net value of a project. Used effectively, it should ensure that data processing applications are not commenced, and not continued, unless there are net benefits. This paper reports on research into the extent to which the use of CBA has prevented unjustified uses of computer matching by government agencies in the United States and Australia.

The conclusions reached are that:

  • properly conducted CBA is capable of acting as a significant restraint on data surveillance schemes, provided that a number of conditions hold;
  • those conditions have not existed in either the United States or Australia;
  • intrinsic economic controls have therefore been largely ineffectual; and
  • regulatory measures are necessary if CBA is to act as a control over unjustified use of data surveillance.
Access Date14/11/2010