August 10, 2016

Horse 2151 - Citizens Censorious of the Census

Who could see that coming from twenty miles away? If fourteen million people all try to log onto a website at once, then of course it's going to crash; even Blind Freddy can see that. Or rather, Visually Impaired Unnamed Person because he refused to give his name in an act of subversion.
Census 2016 will be remembered for a very long time as the night that the website collapsed and the people revolted.

I can understand the sort of paranoid hysteria that flew around in the run up to the census, where people either didn't want to put their name on it, or simply refused to fill it in altogether because human nature hasn't changed in thousands of years and people can always be made to be afraid of the "other"; especially when that other can be dehumanised and there's nothing easier to dehumanise than government bureaucracy. In this case, the existential threat is that governments once they have collected the data, might match it with other data that they already collect and then use it for nefarious purposes unknown. Never mind the fact that some of the most savage regimes which have ever existed, didn't need to collect data before they carried out their plans. Stalin, Pol Pot and Hitler (Godwin's Law invoked!), all carried out their terrible trail of destruction with the help of ordinary citizens and they never needed to collect data or carry out a census to do that.
I think that it takes a monumental leap of imagination to think that the government is going to use the data to round up people based upon their ethnicity, race, religion or nationality. In all cases where governments have done this type of thing, there had already been a prevailing level of animosity and hatred towards these groups of people by these governments and it's not like a mere census magically gave them the keys to the murder machines. Besides which, most prejudices, discrimination and vilification that people face are from other people and that's based on direct contact and not census data.

I don't know who all the wingnuts are that think that the government is carrying out some sort of terrible conspiracy but as we saw last night, the Australian Bureau Of Statistics couldn't even make one website work for one night; I don't know what they think that that same government entity might do but the evidence suggests that this is the most incompetent conspiracy  ever.
As for myself, I have no problems whatsoever with giving details about myself to the government. What is the worst that they could do? Oh no, there's been a 195% increase in the number of children who were born in the area. Quick, we'd better build an evil evil government school  and baby health care centre before anyone notices! Argh, this suburb is now full of older people. It would be such a tragedy to close down neonatal clinics and replace them with renal care facilities, wouldn't it? Who's going to stop this evil evil provision of services, based upon changing demographics? Man the harpoons! Let's just run from side to side like brainless sheep, shall we?

In theory Australia is a country of 24 million people. I say in theory because if 24 million people all suddenly decided to not give their details in the census, then how is the government expected to know?
As far as I can make out, the only people who really need to worry about the census, are those people who intend to carry out some nefarious project in the future. If you're not doing anything wrong then you really have no need to fear a benign and demonstrably incompetent government entity.
I for one quite like the fact that the British Government has been collecting people's names and addresses for well over two centuries. It means that if you do happen to be compiling something like a family history, then you can follow the fortunes of people in the past as their circumstances changed. The television program "Who Do You Think You Are?" regularly illustrates this as it often shows people's details from censuses of long ago. In contrast, Australia which hasn't been collecting such details, has no facility to do this at all. The best that we can hope for is to look at electoral rolls and guess at someone's life based upon what the average demographics of that electorate happened to be at the time.

As far as I'm concerned, the census in addition to providing a useful snapshot of the nation so that governments can make planning decisions based upon what currently exists, that same snapshot is useful long after we've all taken the eternal lie down and appear as a name on a lump of rock and no more censuses.

#CensusFail in 2016 provides me with two of the best arguments against electronic voting.
Firstly, that if people are that concerned with governments collecting data by computer, then why should  they trust those same governments to conduct fair elections by computer?
Secondly, if a nation of 24 million people all trying to log onto a system for the census can make it crash, what makes anyone think that an electronic system for running the election (which must be conducted in one day), is not going to crash? If you weren't able to do the census last night, then you still have about a month to complete it. If people en masse couldn't Lodge their vote in an election, then not only does that mean that the election gets mucked up but as we saw in Florida in 2000 with the "hanging chads" the very fate of the election itself can have national implications.

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