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Letter: Don’t lump the Census in with flagrant data breach offenders | Letters

To the editor: I’m a real technophobe; don’t own a smart phone, am not on Facebook, and have never seen a tweet. Given that lack of sophistication, I’m hardly qualified to challenge Elliott Greenblott’s Fraud Watch column on identity theft (“Stop criminals from using your identity

“) in the Aug. 26 Reformer, but here goes: he writes, “… there is a clear reality: virtually everyone is already a victim of identity theft. Your personal information has been compromised, not once but multiple times … {if you have} accounts at Walmart, Apple, Walgreens, Amazon or virtually all national merchants, your information has been compromised in data breaches.” That’s probably true, however he then continues, “The same is true for your information held by the Bureau of the Census, IRS, Anthem Blue Cross, Google, Yahoo and Facebook.” In the case of the Census, I wonder what hard evidence he has to back up that assertion.

Identity theft is identified as the most common form of fraud reported for the past several …

I’ve worked as a Field Representative (read: interviewer) for the U. S. Census here in Windham County for the past 12 years, and I am not aware of any such serious, compromising data breaches. Any loyalty aside, I think it’s a disservice to lump a longstanding, respected, pretty damned reliable if not venerable department of the federal government with Amazon, Google, Yahoo and Facebook in the same breath, as it were. The latter are huge, global, often rapacious, commercial enterprises that make their enormous, obscene profits by gathering and trading on people’s personal habits, choices and preferences (and stifling the competition). The Census’ mission and modus operandi are altogether different.

When I’m out interviewing respondents – occupants at randomly selected addresses from Stratton to Guilford – as I’ve done month in, month out over many years, the most challenging part of my job, as the grunt on the ground, is to assure them that the Census takes every possible precaution to encrypt and protect the confidentiality of the information they give me. One of the things I do, for example, when people express hesitation or doubt is hand them a brochure titled, “The U.S. Census Bureau Respects Your Privacy and Protects Your Personal Information.” The first thing it says is, “It’s Safe. Participating in Census Bureau censuses and surveys is safe. Your answers are protected by law and are not shared with anyone.” It continues: “Safety in the Digital Age. The Census Bureau protects your information through passwords, firewalls, encryption and other technological safeguards.”

When I’m trying to persuade a reluctant person – who’s never seen me before I show up at the door – to do a Census survey (the Census does many other surveys besides the big, decennial Census most of us did last year), I have to look them in the eye and say something like, “Look, I know everyone’s worried about data breaches and being hacked, and I’m just a lowly field rep, but I can tell you this: first, the Census is interested in the aggregate, not you personally, and second, they are totally committed to protecting your answers and confidentiality.” That’s the best I can do as the direct interface between the government and randomly sampled Vermonters. And so again, I think it’s wrong to group the Census and its mission of public service with a bunch of profit-driven, commercial giants because to do so undermines our already frayed faith in democracy, the federal government and the public good. If there’s hard evidence of a major data breach as regards the Census, readers should be told specifically the extent of it and when it happened.

Let me conclude with one last quote from the aforementioned brochure: “A Message from the Director. We pledge to keep your answers confidential. This commitment means you can provide honest answers to our questions knowing that they will only be merged into thousands of others to paint a portrait of our country. The Census Bureau knows that our pledge of confidentiality is key in obtaining accurate data. Without you, the country doesn’t have the timely statistical information about how we are doing economically, educationally or socially. This is a fundamental way that the American public can make sure that our democracy is well informed.”

Richard Evers

Brattleboro, Aug. 28

Source: on 2021-09-06 08:00:00

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