Census form: To spill or not to spill…


Got my census form. My dilemma: Genealogy is an important thing to me. We have enjoyed gleaning data from 72+ year old censuses for years. So, do I answer the whole thing to benefit my posterity’s genealogy research (assuming that’ll even be an issue 72 years from now)? Or, do I thumb my nose at the government and answer only that 6 anonymous Americans live here who don’t care to contribute to race/class warfare, even if data is supposedly “private” or reported only in “aggregate”?

Some things to think about…

“What is Pearson 1′s race? …Black, African Am., or Negro”. Uhhhhh, why not just toss in the ‘N’ word if you need to get that specific? Seriously “Negro”? Bah!

They also want to know the status of my mortgage. Last I checked, it was bought by SunTrust, divided into a million CDOs, and then transferred to federal government owned and operated Fannie Mae (without my knowledge, btw). At any rate, they should already know this by my address.

Then there’s garbage like http://www.queerthecensus.org/ which boldly states that “LGBT people are basically invisible in the survey that is supposed to reflect the diversity of America’s population – and that’s a big problem.” Really? That’s what the Census is about? I seem to remember it only being about enumeration.

Oh, and census data is private and secure. Sure.

The Federal DHHS web site was hacked by r4dBlack on or around Feb 14, 2010 01:51:21 GMT. That page is full of Census data links.

Then, we read this story: http://www.fiercegovernmentit.com/story/census-bureau-has-it-glitch/2010-02-21

As a computer programmer and Web application developer, this causes me great concern. This close to the Census takers arriving at my door is not the time to be fixing these issues. It spells trouble, if not doom, for the ability of the government to keep that personally collected data secure.

Here’s a government Web page advertising public raw Census data which has supposedly been completely scrubbed of directly identifiable data. http://data.octo.dc.gov/Metadata.aspx?id=541

Scrubbing data of directly identifiable attributes is no longer the deterrent it was once thought to be now that more powerful algorithms are available to infer private info from secondary tidbits. One need look no further than Google to see that this is true. I once used Google to find my long lost favorite 5th grade teacher using publicly sourced land development data that also included secondary Census info. I found out waaay too much about the new house her family was building…and all I wanted to know was how to get in touch with her.

However tempted you may be to “contribute to society” by providing all that private info to a Census worker, don’t do it. It’s not worth the risk.

Consider these questions before opening your door to a Census taker.

In fact, here’s what I’m going to post next to the front door of my home.

I suggest you do the same.

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