The countdown to Census 2010 is upon us, but is the U.S. Census Bureau satisfied with the progress of its quest to go high-tech?

The U.S. Census Bureau is charged with assessing the U.S. population and demographics every 10 years, and the next assessment will occur in 2010. In preparation, 140,000 address canvassers have begun fanning out across their assigned areas to verify old addresses, add new ones, and document residences that include multiple residents. For the first time ever, canvassers are equipped with handheld computers that include a built-in GPS.

Some people think that this use of technology is an invasion of privacy, and are upset over a $700 million taxpayer-funded contract to collect GPS readings for every front door in the country. These readings are pinpointing locations with technological accuracy and have raised concern from those who question why such information is necessary. These privacy advocates are worried about what could be done with the information.

The Obama administration recently decided to put White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in an oversight role over the census, which will be used to determine a reapportionment of congressional seats and could be used to solidify a single political party’s control over the nation, its budget, military and future. This decision seems to have enhanced the already raised concerns regarding the upcoming census.

Nevertheless, this new technology promises to be of great assistance to the process of counting the number of Americans residing in this great nation. Instead of using paper-based lists and surveys, the U.S. Government will use its newly developed, paperless method to achieve census goals. According to the Political Pistachio blog:

Efficiency and accuracy are the promised bi-products of these new technology-based programs, which includes creating Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates for the front doors of American homes. This way, in addition to the current satellite location and picture of your property from the roof, the government will now have a GPS coordinate for your front door.

Although some experts feared technological breakdowns, early reports say the GPS systems worked with few glitches. The Census Bureau had hoped to use the $600 million system from Harris Corp. to follow up with those who do not respond to the six-question Census form in 2010, when the actual counting begins. However, technological problems forced the Bureau to return to the paper-based method. According to Tami Luby, CNN Senior Writer:

This last-minute switch, announced in April 2008, could cost taxpayers up to $3 billion through fiscal 2013, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The increased price tag reflects the additional time and manpower the paper-based method requires, as well as added supplies and systems….

The 2010 Census is expected to cost up to $14.5 billion in total and is expected to employ 1.4 million people, the vast majority of whom will be hired next year.

So, the countdown continues… and privacy advocates are left to wonder, “is Big Brother really watching?”

Traci Galbreath

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One Response to Big Brother's Countdown: Census 2010 via GPS

  1. Forrest says:

    I don’t understand the privacy issue here at all. The data we’re talking about here – a list of where front doors are, unconnected to who lives behind them – can be had from Google Maps. It would simply take much longer. “Uncle Sam” isn’t going to publish a list with 100,000,000 entries like “Forrest Croce lives at 47.38 N by -122.33 W.”

    You wrote

    These readings are pinpointing locations with technological accuracy and have raised concern from those who question why such information is necessary


    I’m not sure exactly what “pinpointing locations with technological accuracy” means, but, in general, we’re talking about a 30 foot margin.

    More important, though, is the question of necessity. You’re right, that it’s not strictly necessary. But then neither are cars – our ancestors got along just fine without them, even if they make our lives easier. Now is the geo data useful? You bet!