Friday, 11 March 2011

Census snooping

I had a little peak inside my census form yesterday. Fucking hell ! I do tend to suffer from a kind of form-o-phobia at the best of times but I don't remember it being as extensive and intrusive  as this ten years ago. 

I've heard it said on a few occasions now tin the anti-cuts movement that we should encourage everyone to fill it in to ensure that we get the public services we need. Hmm. I'm not so sure  there's anything 'progressive' about the census it seems suspiciously like another excuse for the big brother state to stick its nose even further in to our lives.

The people who argue this used to be called Left reformists'  - they have a vision of socialism by social engineering. Ironically often they're the same people who talk about  the Second World War as being the time when the economy was best planned  for the common good (unless you happened to live in Hamburg or Dresden of course). But guess what? - 1941 was the one ten-year interval that we didn't have a census. Just a thought.

A piece in The Guardian reports that we've been feeling  suspicious about the census ever since it started up in 1801.

Like many others I've used the historic census returns published online to get a snap shot of my family history. The early censuses were 'taken' by officials actually calling on people's homes and asking them questions.  Infuriatingly for any historian it's often a bit hit and miss. Names are spelt inconsistently. Place and date of birth varies over the years. In some cases the census taker's scrawl is illegible and throws out some wacky transcriptions - one military ancestor  of mine is recorded as being a private in the 10th Huggers (I'm pretty sure it's meant to say 'hussars'). I've another relative who manages to get recorded in two places at once,  and several who are fishermen and manage to disappear from the record altogether presumably because they were at sea in boats too small to have their own records.

However questionable the data recorded may have been, there weren't many other options at at time when there were few other statistical databases and the great unwashed  masses (often illiterate) couldn't be trusted to fill in and return a form by themselves. But today we now live in an age when we are all barcoded, profiled and indexed many times over   - by all sorts of bodies. So much so that it is difficult to believe that all the information ever needed doesn't already exist somewhere else already. In fact  I'm surprised that  the government doesn't just ask Tesco or Amazon if they can borrow their databases  ... or even just cross reference the information they must surely already have.

Maybe I'm just paranoid.

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