A Data Controversy

Quite a bit has changed since this article about airlines and the US government.  Since very few people are flying, or even can fly, perhaps this disagreement is moot, but I bet it comes up again. Now, separate from the idea of the actual disagreement here, there is an interesting discussion about the data involved here. In short, the US government wants airlines to collect data about passengers to help track the COVID-19 virus. Airline executives say they can’t easily get this data, other than on paper, without spending a few months on development.

Certainly having a way to gather additional information in a digital form can require some development work. There are all sorts of software decisions to be made about when, where, and how users might input information. We have mobile devices, kiosks, laptops, and more, all of which might require separate interfaces for software changes. There is also the testing, validation, and verification we want to ensure the software works well and doesn’t introduce instability.

In today’s world, with growing legislation, there is also a question of privacy. These requests may or may not conflict with other laws that airlines are bound by. There is likely to be more conflict here as the world changes and laws are slow to change and converge in some type of consistency. Rapidly changing requirements, as have been pushed during the COVID-19 pandemic, can potentially put us technical people in a difficult position. We have to balance the urgency of meeting requirements with the potential liability of violating privacy. I’d hope we could find some balance there, especially in a crisis.

We do need to be flexible and ready to adapt to changing requirements. If regulations change, our organizations ought to be able to prioritize these changes and rapidly deploy them. In today’s world, where many high performing DevOps companies can get new software out in hours or days, governments may expect large companies to be prepared to follow suit. In that case, especially where new data is needed, having a software development process that includes the database is critical.

Steve Jones

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