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"Governor and KDHE receive an F on their latest assignment of handling cell phone data tracking information"
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My Two Cents of Common Sense
"Northwest Kansas holds some truly inspiring scenery, contains a wealth of Old West history, possesses some of the finest educational institutions, promotes an entrepreneurial spirit, and is home to some of the most hard-working, genuine people I've ever met!"    ~ Adam Smith
1970 RD 3 Weskan, KS 67762
785-821-2568 (Cell)
300 SW 10th St, Suite 512N Topeka, KS  66612
785-296-0715 (Office)
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Governor and KDHE receive F on latest assignment

Really? An “F”? Isn’t that a bit harsh?

I don’t know… ask any of the 45 counties in Kansas that received an F rating in the Unacast mobile phone movement tracking report referenced by Dr. Lee Norman, Secretary of the Dept. of Health and Environment and Governor Laura Kelly this past Wednesday. These counties were publicly chastised by the Governor for not cooperating to stay home and save lives.

My guess is that this shotgun-precision reprimand was made without any attempt to understand what these communities are doing locally and actually assessing a true “score” on their efforts during this pandemic. Perhaps Governor Kelly should get to know the entire state she serves before making such broad accusations. Strike one.

Let me digress for a brief moment to tell you a personal story. Last fall, one of my children brought home a quiz from school that she had absolutely bombed. Since she usually gets good grades, my kiddo was devastated. Looking at the test, I quickly realized what had happened. It was a ranking quiz where the answers had to be put in order from 1 to 10. Well, one mistake early in the test made every single subsequent answer wrong, even though the rest of the answers were in the correct sequential order. The teacher had realized this, too, and sent the quiz home with the opportunity to make corrections and recover most of the lost points. Crisis averted.

Back to the issue at hand.

Full disclosure - according to Unacast I live in an F rated county. It’s a rural area... how rural? I live 22 miles from my nearest grocery store and gas station! A two-mile radius from my house would yield no other human residents...  let alone any businesses with essential retail goods and services. Regardless of what I need, shopping of any kind requires traveling a significant number of miles.

We are predominantly an agricultural economy and not much has slowed down. In fact, the soil has thawed and farm work is starting at a rapid, time-sensitive pace. Yes, essential local businesses are open, but many with closed storefronts. Need parts for your tractor? Call ahead and they will meet you at your vehicle with your items. Need a pallet of seed? They can load your truck with a forklift and wave a friendly “thank you”. All while easily keeping a “safe distance”. How does your cell phone data track that, Unacast? Just like my daughter’s quiz, just because the result doesn’t match a one-size-fits-all answer key doesn’t necessarily translate into complete failure.

My point is, our Governor and Secretary are making public judgements on social-distancing adherence based on aggregate cell phone data that cannot possibly extrapolate what movement has been essential or non-essential or what safety measures have been implemented during that movement. If they want to view the data from Unacast for their own edification, so be it. But don’t use it as an infallible source to rebuke your citizens that, for the overwhelming most part, are doing their best during this time of crisis. Strike two.

Last, but certainly not least, the Governor should know that Kansans are very independent, freedom-loving people. The absolute very last thing you should ever suggest is that the state government is electronically watching you and tracking your compliance without your consent. That’ll go over like a tornado in a trailer park.

Yes, it’s true Unacast has made their COVID-19 data and mapping analysis available to the public, but comments from the Secretary lead us to believe he has access to other information that is not immediately available to the public. That hints secrecy, whether there actually is or not, and that sends up the first red flag.

The second alarm goes off when people don’t fully understand what data is being used to analyze public compliance. When phrases like “movement tracking system available to state governments” are used, citizens will automatically assume the state is somehow hacking into their phones to track their movement on a daily basis. People inherently don’t trust the government – and federal and state governments have done little to abate that distrust.

If the reference is going to be made about data being used to analyze public movement in Kansas, extreme effort and consideration should have first went into a full explanation of exactly what information is, or ISN’T, being collected and used… and by whom.

If you are a smart phone user, you likely voluntarily provide several phone applications the access to your GPS location to allow the app to function effectively. Facebook and other social media apps can collect your location data, weather apps, GPS guidance map apps, as well as a myriad of retail companies from home improvement to restaurants that find their stores nearest your current location and serve you better.

However, I am going to assume a great many of us allow those apps to access our location without realizing who all might be “harvesting” that data and for what purpose. Be honest, when was the last time you read the full terms of service / disclaimer of fine print before clicking that “Ok” or “Allow” button?!?

Our Governor and Secretary did not spend near enough time explaining the data collected and utilized from Unacast, and whether there was any additional movement tracking data above and beyond what is publicly available. They did not do enough to prevent the distress that “Big Brother” was indeed watching you without your consent, and their actions have incited a new anxiety and panic among Kansans that was completely unnecessary and unwarranted during this time of crisis. Strike three.

Rural Kansans appear to have some of the worst scores on the Unacast map, but in my observation they have had some of the most pragmatic and common sense reactions to this statewide emergency. Additionally, the Governor and Secretary have, for the most part, done a good job managing this statewide emergency situation. Just because they received an F on this assignment doesn’t mean they are failing the entire course, and they also have the opportunity, if they so choose, to make corrections and improve their grade. They should retract their statements about F rated communities and assure Kansans that the government is NOT tracking their location without their consent.

Kansans are watching and will be grading their corrections accordingly...

 
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