07.27.2010 07:37 AM

Leakage

I refused to fill out the long-form census thing, as I have written below, because (a) the questions were pretty intrusive and (b) I don’t believe governments are sufficiently careful about sensitive, private and/or personal information.  They’re sloppy as Hell, in fact.

On the latter point, various commentators have taken me to task, huffing and puffing that reputable government agencies –  like StatsCan, I guess –  never, ever let sensitive info leak out.

Ever, ever!

Don’t worry, leaks like the WikiLeaks leaks never, ever happen. Well, okay, maybe 92,000 times.

But it won’t ever happened to you, or to any government from this point onwards!  Stamp out, TTT, black magic, no erasing!

43 Comments

  1. MW says:

    Sorry, can’t take seriously any argument that relies on a Margaret Wente column.

    • Warren says:

      I’m relying on the headline, as you are well aware. There are about a billion other such headlines around the globe this morning, to wit: sensitive info leaks out of government all the time. All the time.

      Don’t be obtuse.

      • MW says:

        I wasn’t being obtuse. I was attempting to be humorous, and getting a jab in at Ms. Wente at the same time. Apparently this attempt failed.

        However, that government agencies may leak information doesn’t seem to me to support the argument that governments shouldn’t collect useful information. I think your argument would have more merit if it focused on the issue of the usefulness of census information, something that I haven’t seen you comment on (obviously, I may have missed it).

        Governments require taxes to run. In the course of collecting taxes they collect personal, private information. However, you are not arguing for the dismantling of the income tax system and/or the CRA, presumably because you accept this intrusion as the price for a functioning society. If you refuse to fill out the census for fear of information leaks (even though there isn’t any evidence that Stats Canada has ever leaked information) I do not understand how you can fill out you Income Tax returns. Perhaps I am being obtuse, but at the end of the day, I’d be much more receptive to an argument about why the Census information is not necessary as opposed to tinfoil hat nonsense about the government leaking my employment information and/or the number of bedrooms I have in my house, especially if that argument relies on leaks of unrelated information in other countries.

  2. James Smith says:

    Mr K, While I tend to disagree with your PoV on this one, I do take your point of leaked info from government agencies.
    But three points 1- How should governments make decisions if not with facts & data?
    2- The present PM’s method of governing on this & other files is to use dogma & opinion rather than facts & data, is this any way to run a horse race?
    3- If we need data how should it be collected? Data mining all records & info?

    • Warren says:

      1. Nobody disputes the importance of facts and data. But (a) governments only passingly rely on such data, if at all and (b) my personal issue is with particular questions. What possible relevance does my sexuial orientation have, or the racial composition of my family? I know StatsCan sells that info to other entities – but should they?
      2. I don’t understand your question.
      3. There are other ways that are less intrusive, I presume.

      • James Smith says:

        There are merit to your points, but why would an administration not put a measured & reasonable proposal together- like you did in about 90 seconds?

        • Warren says:

          I think they did it for ideological reasons, got surprised by a huge blowback, and now are trying to manufacture reasons post facto.

          • Nick says:

            You hit the nail on the head ther Warren. I also think it is a ploy to the Tea Party element of their base.

      • Mike says:

        RE: 3. There are other ways that are less intrusive, I presume.

        Just curious, but if you postulate that they need the data for policy decisions and presume that they will find that data through other means – what on earth makes you think that those other means are any more secure than the census?

        Which is to say that you seem to be complaining with this paarticular MEANS of acquiring the data, not really that they have or need the data. And I’m curious as to how these other means are less intrusive. Either the data itself is intrusive and unneccessary or it isn’t. Method is irrelevant.

      • allegra fortissima says:

        I received the long form as well and I was tempted to add a few “delicate” questions myself (answers inclusive) to the form – unfortunately there wasn’t enough space to write on.

        And I remembered the very smart guy who once said: “The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation”.

        • Jdog says:

          > And I remembered the very smart guy who once said: ?The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation?.

          Maxime Bernier?

          • Namesake says:

            Well, Max Bedroom tried to say it, but flubbed the line, which isn’t surprising, since he’s shown he shouldn’t be running the state given what he’s done in other people’s bedrooms.

            In fact, given his example & Fadden’s testimony, we should probably add another q. to the long form in their honour:

            a) Have you ever disclosed company or government secrets or left sensitive documents in the lovenests of someone you were having carnal relations with out of wedlock; and
            b) Were they a foreign national; or
            c) Might they have links to organized crime?

          • allegra fortissima says:

            Who? No, that’s a Pierre Elliott Trudeau quote. A quite famous one, I think…

            Namesake, could you add another question to your list:

            Should we cut useless things in Ottawa?

          • Namesake says:

            I know*… I was just counter-teasing Jdog teasing reply to you w. a dig I’d been waiting for an excuse to make
            * http://warrenkinsella.com/2010/07/senseless-census/#comment-6865

  3. Andrew says:

    Have worked in IT for over 15 years and there are information leaks on a daily basis in banking, hospitals and government agencies, 99% of which don’t make the papers.

    Its only when someone misplaces a laptop filled with sensitive information that we hear about it.

  4. PolyGon says:

    Not really sure that I see the connection. The Afghan war logs were leaked deliberately by whistleblowers who have presumably been unable to tolerate the personal moral repercussions of keeping these potential war crimes secret.

    Boneheads like Maxime Bernier, who leave files in inappropriate places, there will always be. But the Wikileaks case here is quite a different story from the question at hand – is it more harmful or more beneficial for the government to be able to accurately identify demographic trends in the country?

  5. Pedro says:

    My take on this issue is the mandatory or voluntary disclosure of information on the census form. I resent strongly the mandatory disclosure as it has been up till now.
    Can we not send out 2 or 5 or even 10 times as many long forms to Canadians and just wait to see how many decide to fill out the detailed questions? I realize this makes a mockery of the randomness issue, since groups as defined on the form will self select, but cannot our expert actuaries and statisticians make useful sense of the voluntary data?
    Our silly media has really dropped the ball on this by trumpeting a hidden agenda, political spin on the whole story while the intent was only to make government less intrusive in our private lives.
    Can we not have an intelligent dicussion about this issue?
    Obviously not.

    • Jan says:

      We don’t seem to be able to with Tony Clement. He refuses to get off his talking points. If the threat of jail is too intrusive, why doesn’t the government remove it. If they find certain questons too intrusive – remove them. The government has final approval on them. After watching the committee this morning,it is obvious that this is all about discrediting Statscan, not improving it.

    • Nick says:

      Problem with that reasoning is that a greater proportion of those who chose not to respond are from more marginalized elements of society. Case in point is the conservative insistence on removing the question about unpaid housework. Women from economically disadvantaged backgrounds fall into this category and reliable stats about their situation have been helpful in the past.
      Pedro I don’t know why you are so resentful of the mandatory form. No one has ever been arrested for not doing it and Warren himself has refused to fill it out and lived to tell the tale. My opinion on this issue is informed by groups who take sides. Progressive organizations advocating maternal health, gay rights, women’s rights etc.. are alarmed by these changes. Hard core libertarians are happy with the change. That alone is almost enough to make me very concerned about this change in the census. When the head of one of the most respected stats organizations in the world resigns–this proves the government mishandled the case. International observers have testified to the quality of Canadian stats–this is ideology trumping sense–the worst kind of policy and like much of what Harper does very AMerican conservative.

  6. William M says:

    The military docs were released to embarrass gov’t officials.

    I happily fill out the census although I’ve never received the long form.

    I would fill it out though as it’s needed to assess the effectiveness of social policy.

  7. Mulletaur says:

    Statistics Canada is zealous in protecting the privacy of those who give data to it. Much more so than the banks, telecoms and utilities companies that you deal with every day. Can you point to an instance where Statistics Canada has inadvertently ‘leaked’ data ?

    This is a bogus argument against the long form. Governments can’t fly blind. Rational government requires good information to base policy on and subsequently judge the effectiveness of policy. The risk of private data being ‘leaked’ by government is very small. The cost of not having this information is very high. In a world where stolen Social Insurance Numbers and credit card numbers are traded as commodities on the Internet, Statistics Canada has done a fantastic job of protecting Canadians’ data. The *possibility* that this data be ‘leaked is not a sufficient argument against the long form census. If it were a valid argument, it would also be valid against the short form census, which I note you are not arguing against.

  8. Namesake says:

    I missed the first part of today’s Parliamentary Committee hearings on this where they grilled Tony, but saw the two former Head Statistician’s segments (Ivan Felligi & Munir Sheikh) who made some interesting pts.:

    1) Fellegi ptd out it’s actually the short form which is new: up until 1971, there was only a mandatory long form, omnibus q’rre, as it were. It was his suggestion (tho’ he wasn’t yet Head Stat’n then) that some of the now too many q’s could be split off into a 20% random sample.

    2) When the Con. Cmtee member tried to embarrass him w. “why do you need to know this or that” q’s, Sheikh calmly ptd out its not StatCan which decides which q’s to put in: it’s the end-users who nominate them, & the gov’t which approves them [which the Cons. had already done a couple years ago, before pulling this about face] it’s just StatCan’s duty to then go do the data collection as well & as economically as it can.

    3) Asked about the data privacy protocols, Fellegi said they’re too innumerable to mention (he had a separate, lengthier than the allotted 5 min. written brief which’ll hopefully be made public), but noted in 2006 they hired some specialist security hackers to test their firewalls & try to hack them, & they couldn’t.

    • Namesake says:

      … and we’re back.

      Mad Max Bernier (the guy who made what happens in _his_ bedrooms our biz. thru his sloppy handling of secret data), who was the Minister of Industry resp. for the 2006 Census, just revealed his ignorance of his file & perpetuated the misinformation by asking why 2 q’s which were _not_ on that long form were asked on pain of jail:

      Hey Max: the q’s — which _you_ signed off on at the time, BTW — did _not_ ask how many bathroooms (just bed/rooms, to assess overcrowding and, hey, privacy) in one’s home; & did _not_ ask _when_ one leaves for work (just how long the commute time is).

      • Namesake says:

        Ok, in fairness, I should correct the record & apologize somewhat w/r/t Bernier in light of subsequent testimony:

        1) the q’s for the 2006 census had already been approved by the Libs (probly in Dec.) 2005 just before the Cons. took office, so he didn’t originally sign off on them, but just reluctantly implemented them. And come to think of it, I did see some other news stories recently that he tried to kibosh some or all of that Census at the time but was overruled.

        2) the q. about when do you leave for work does exist: it’s a brand new one which will appear on the new Nat’l Household Survey / vol. long form. (Who knew? It hasn’t been released yet.) [Which, um, Tony signed off on.]

        • Jan says:

          Where where Bernier during the post census review? The Conservatives have had 4 years to correct perceived problems.
          But nothing until months away from the next one.

        • Namesake says:

          So they finally posted the q’s for the new long survey, suddenly, secretly, last night (the pdf was last saved at 6:18 pm July 26, tho’ created July 16): the night before the committee hearings, so Tony could prove he wasn’t making that hitherto mythical intrusive q. about when one goes to work & a few other new ones he indignantly read off (even tho’, again, it was he who approved them).

          http://www.statcan.gc.ca/survey-enquete/household-menages/pdf/nhs-enm-quest-eng.pdf

  9. Waldo says:

    Liberal leakage can soil the party leader too, particularly when a Liberal jounalist is published in a Liberal newspaper, suggesting that Iggy is considering the UofT as an exit strategy.

  10. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Come on Warren. I respect your view but you have to deal with the big picture. This along with the disastrous gunship footage are political leaks meant to deliberately undermine the President’s strategy in Afghanistan. I would call it a premeditated, cold, calculated manifestation of naked political force. I could speculate whom is behind this but I rather not get sued this week.

  11. So, Warren, let’s assume it does leak. Are you really that concerned that somebody might learn you’re a caucasion Roman Catholic in the top 10% (maybe better) of income earners? Your address is already leakable from your bank and credit cards (they make at least as many mistakes as gov’t) as well as anybody who can figure out an Ontario title search. If they start to ask for my banking pin or password, then I’ll get worried. Right now, though, I’m not too concerned.

    BTW, it would be obvious to question why a Jew isn’t worried about such lists. I believe quite strongly that evil governments will find out such information even without a census.

  12. Derek Pearce says:

    I think your characterization of those making a stink about the census as (sic) “lefty hacks who didn’t care until it was a weapon against the Cons” is unfair, Warren. As noted elsewhere, even business and evangelical groups have come out against this, though previously they never had an axe to grind with the CPC. A vast swath of non-partisan society (hey, of which I’m not a part because I am anti-CPC, but just sayin’) is deeply alarmed and disappointed with this decision. Also, it’s a bit disingenuous to say “I’m tired of this issue because we’ve been lied to about a war we’re in.” Why are you tired of this issue and not a million others?

  13. d. andy jette says:

    Warren, to your comment on the usefulness or lack thereof of the race/ethnicity questions, I’m compelled to point out that, were it not for the Census questions on ancestry and more recently Aboriginal identity, governments would be able to pretend that Canada’s Aboriginal population is half the size it really is. These questions and data aren’t a tool for government abuse, they’re a check on government abuse.

    • Namesake says:

      Right, and they’re also essential for how even just the feds (much less the other levels, who _really_ use the data for planning & decision purposes partic. for public health & transpo.) are _supposed_ to govern, as the Privacy impact assessment for the 2011 Census pts. out.*

      That’s why it seems the Cons have already had to backtrack to add another mandatory q. to the short form to make sure it meets the Official Languages info. collecting req’s; see
      http://impolitical.blogspot.com/2010/07/official-languages-census-concession.html for links.

      “Many statutes and regulations refer to the Census of Population as a basis for the administration of their programs. The Census is essential in anchoring population estimates that govern the annual allocation of billions of dollars in health and social transfers and equalization payments to provinces and territories (approximately $60 billion in fiscal year 2009-2010), as well as in determining electoral boundaries for democratic representation and reform. Other federal legislative needs addressed include the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Employment Equity Act and the Canadian Multiculturalism Act.” http://www.statcan.gc.ca/about-apercu/pia-efrvp/cen-rec-pop2011-eng.htm

    • EddieC says:

      Ditto re sexual orientation. If the cons could officially erase the existence of gay people, I’m sure they’d like to. Then the policy arguments for accomodating non-heterosexual orientations disappear. Why accomodate a minority you can’t even be bothered counting?

      Sorry to sound like a whining minority, Warren, but as a straight white male you don’t have to worry about having your identity officially ignored. Some of us aren’t so lucky. It was a fight to even get the sexual orientation question added to the census in the first place.

      • Warren says:

        Fair enough. But as a member of a mixed race family, I don’t feel like providing details about same to total strangers, so that they can sell the data to mass marketers, etc.

        The stats council folks agree that there are legitimate questions about long form intrusiveness and confidentiality. The Cons have messed this thing up, big time – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t, as I say, legitimate objections that can be made.

        • Namesake says:

          But the “so that they can sell the data…” isn’t correct w/r/t the causality of this; they collect that data so that the fed. gov’t can (attempt/pretend to) discharge its legislated responsibilities.*

          It’s just they _also_ sell it to “make a virtue of necessity”: i.e., to recover / defray some costs, which is part of its mandate to get the best possible data for the lowest poss. cost.

          And StatCan also uses the ethnic & immigration data to track whether there’s (progress in the) systematic discrimination in their occupational & economic fortunes, to help inform & promote policies to remedy that (like stop the stonewalling in recognizing foreign credentials).

          And aren’t you the least bit interested to know this, which comes from the 2006 long-form censes data:

          “More than 340,000 children in Canada are growing up in mixed-race families…and the number of mixed unions is increasing much more quickly than that of other partnerships.”

          http://www.montrealgazette.com/Mixed+race+families+swelling+Canada+StatsCan+says/2932046/story.html

          * I just found this fuller listing of the official fed. “Uses of Census Long-form data ? Question Justification” by someone who did a PhD thesis on this area:
          http://datalibre.ca/2010/07/19/uses-of-census-long-form-data-question-justification/

          • PolyGon says:

            Namesake, good post (as usual). It’s getting to be a dead horse, but I think the benefit of knowing how our country is evolving is greater than the potential risk of civil servants leaving the raw data on a train.

            And even if they do, am I somehow more compromised than I am already, with mobile phone triangulation and shopping habits all entrusted to private corps over which I’ve got zero democratic control?

  14. H Holmes says:

    Why doesn’t stats Canada buy their information from airmiles, grocery store cards, the credit card companies, and tax returns.

    The census is useless at the best of times and most of the data is already available for a small nominal cost.

    In fact the whole Obama campaign was based on the collection of this data and not on census data.

    Stats Canada is manufacturing a story about needing this data for 1 in ten Canadians, however most of it is already there, and in a much better form.
    Government protecting jobs that should be outsourced to better organizations, how original.
    Lets pay the people in government to use the data not collect it.

    • Namesake says:

      Gov’t by beer-and-popcorn purchases; great. Never mind that those databases are ridiculously piecemeal, intrusive, & proprietary… sounds like someone’s angling for the new Czar of Disinformation post (or a fallback position at Feschuk.Reid).

    • WJM says:

      The census is useless at the best of times and most of the data is already available for a small nominal cost.

      = = =

      Which census-like data is available elsewhere, for all levels of census geography, on a non-self-selected sample, for a small nominal cost?

      Be specific.

  15. Rob H. says:

    Just a thought to add to the many.

    In an increasingly hyper-partisan world, where serious distrust of the OTHER GUY abounds, how do WE (liberals, conservatives, whatever..) feel about THEM having control of some very personal information.

    Just sayin’

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