Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 20, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CENSUS PRIVACY....Genealogy is a hobby of mine, and among genealogists the main gripe about census information is that it's too private. The damn Census Bureau doesn't release census records for 70 long years, and us genealogists don't want to wait that long.

Just kidding, of course. We really do understand the need to keep this stuff private and we're glad the government is serious about it.

Except that they aren't. Via David Appell, who's really serious about hassling those poor revenoo-ers who show up at his door every few years, it turns out the government has been using census information. They've been using it along with airline passenger records to build their new CAPPS II passenger screening program.

Now, I have to say that I kinda sympathize with the airlines who turned over passenger information to the feds for this program. Sure, they shouldn't have done it, but after 9/11 you have to figure that a lot of people wanted to cut government security programs a lot of slack and understandably so. So maybe the airlines deserve some abuse, but also a bit of understanding for the position they were in.

The Census Bureau is a whole different story. Black helicopter conspiracy theorists have been screeching for years that census information isn't really private, and of course the census folks have responded by swearing on stacks of Bibles that yes it is private. Every bit of it. Absolutely.

But they were lying. Someone needs to be fired if this report turns out to be true.

UPDATE: I've gotten a couple of emails from people who seem knowledgable about this stuff, and they suggest that the census data being used is probably not individual level records. Its usage for this project might still be improper, but it's only a misdemeanor (so to speak), not a felony.

As one piece of compelling evidence for this, note that the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which obtained the documents describing the CAPPS II study in the first place, is not making a big deal out of this. If it were a serious problem, they would be.

Kevin Drum 12:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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