Earlier this week, I wrote a story for the paper which I also posted here about people becoming concerned about address listers from the U.S. Census Bureau coming onto their property. The story was sparked by a news release from the Census Bureau intending to explain what the workers are doing and how to identify them.
It turns out this isn’t just a matter of people being a little freaked out. Some people are really freaked out.
The day the story published, I got an email from someone named Donna.
“Matt, I don’t know about you but I am starting to get a little nervous with all this Big Brother activity. You know what they do in Irag [sic] with GPS coordinates, don’t you?”
She referred me to a few links and a YouTube video. I also did my own Google search. I found long, long threads on assorted blogs about this. Donna is not alone in her worry and accusations.
Some of the concern – and concern is an understatement in some cases – is born of confusion about why Census workers are in the field in 2009 when the census isn’t until 2010. (The answer is these people are not Census takers. These workers are checking and confirming the addressed to which the actual Census forms will be mailed in 2010.)
Some seem creeped out by a stranger coming into their yard, collecting information into a computer, and leaving without saying a word. It’s as though they’d feel better if the worker had knocked on the door and said what they were doing. It seems secretive, and therefore suspicious.
But most of the angst centers on that hand-held computer they carry – a Global Positioning System (or GPS) unit which they use to mark the coordinates of dwellings and their address as they go along.
Bloggers and commenters out there suggest this is everything from just one more obnoxious invasion of privacy by the Federal government to a plot by the shadowy New World Order.
Others commenters have responded that the GPS mapping is just a more accurate means of documenting the address list to which the census forms will be mailed, and knowing precisely where they are. Location matters, because the census isn’t just about counting people, but counting where they are. The numbers of people and their locations are used to drive federal decisions from how much federal money flows into an area to where the lines for congressional districts are drawn.
The Census Bureau itself rarely opens its mouth on any subject without mentioning its promise of security and confidentiality of the data, and that it’s required by law.
But where do you stand on this? Do you trust that the process is as benign and secure as promised? Do you think the intentions are benign, but worry about how that information could be used by others whose intentions aren’t so benign? Or do you think it really is part of an ongoing effort by the federal government to know way to much about you?
Finally, have you had an encounter of any kind with a census address lister in your neighborhood or at your home? What happened? Did you trust them? Ignore them? Worry? Run them off your property? Call the police, or the U.S. Census Bureau?
I’d like to hear. Drop me a comment here. This is a national conversation, but I want to see what the same conversation sounds like in the community where I live.