The census and your activist sensibilities

The census is creating a difficult tension for activists. Many folk are reluctant to fill it in knowing that the data is being processed by US arms company Lockheed Martin (whose fingers are in all kinds of other undesirable pies such as providing interrogators for Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo Bay, data processing for the CIA). But the data helps councils plan public services, and at this time of unprecedented attack on public services…..

I’ve come across a couple of responses. The first is conscientious objection. The second subversion.

Conscientious objection

I came across this at the bottom of an acquaintances email. I thought I’d take the liberty of sharing it because it’s a good summary of the issues:

We are not willing to complete the 2011 census unless the data is not processed by present contractor Lockheed Martin, one of the largest arms producers in the world. We oppose all arms sales and do not wish to co-operate with or contribute to the profit making work of an arms manufacturer. Lockheed Martin makes and sells nuclear weapons including the Trident missiles for both the UK and US nuclear weapons systems. It is the lead contractor running the Atomic Weapons Establishment which both maintains the nuclear warheads and is developing a new nuclear weapons system. It makes and sells cluster bombs. The use of both types of weapon is illegal as well being immoral.

We cannot allow our personal data to be processed by a US based company which carries out surveillance and data processing for the CIA and the FBI. Under the US Patriot Act the US Government can require access to the data held by a US Company. Lockheed Martin also provided interrogators for people detained outside the law at Guantanamo Bay.

We recognise the value of past censuses for planning needed public services. This census will however not be reliable because some people will be deterred from completing if the data will be processed by Lockheed Martin. It is also likely that the people most in need of decent public services and equal respect will be undercounted.


Those nice folk at Peace News have uploaded a couple of anonymous posts explaining how to fill in your census without allowing Lockheed Martin to profit or swelling the government’s coffers by up to £1000 if prosecuted and fined.

There’s the long and the short version. Here’s a few highlights:

Lockheed Martin is in it for the money. A principled stance by you to boycott the census will not hurt them, could provide the British Government with £1000 of your money and will make life harder for local authorities. The rational approach would be to take part in the census but make processing your return as expensive to process as possible for Lockheed Martin. Make sure that processing your return costs Lockheed Martin more that they allowed for in their tender. Don’t let them make a profit from your census return but do help to provide the data your council needs for its Government grants.

Every minute longer spent on a form than Lockheed Martin has budgeted for, will reduce their profit on the contract. It is realistic to assume that this extra cost to Lockheed Martin would be in the region of £1 per minute of extra time spent on your form if all the overheads are taken into account.Let’s assume that they plan, using their high speed computerised scanning and data capture technology, to process a form in, say, 5 minutes from receipt at their processing centre up to finished data capture.

If your form is going to take, say, at least 15 minutes because it is a little awkward to deal with (possibly longer if supervisory level staff has to resolve queries and problems), then you will have reduced Lockheed Martin’s profit by approximately £10, if not more. You can make it extremely time consuming by very simple means.

If (God forbid!) you wrote something down all wrong, you could either crossed it out firmly, and write the information somewhere else with a helpful arrow to the place where it should have been written, or you could glue, sellotape or staple another piece of paper in the approximate place on top of the erroneous entry and write the correct information on it. In either case, the computers scanner will not be able to read the information and will refer it back to a human being to deal with.

The same applies to box ticking. There will many of boxes to tick. It is so easy to tick the wrong boxes in all the excitement. It is best to firmly cross it all out and write in the margin, or wherever there is some space, something like: “Sorry, it should have been this one”, with an arrow pointing in the approximate direction.

The things some people get up to! I ask you…….