Man, I must be denser than I feared. I had no idea about any of this census stuff until I saw this item on Boing Boing.
Actually I did know that our governmental web services were not kind to free and open source software. I learned that when recently submitting my taxes online. “… accessibility is limited to Windows 98, NT, ME, or XP, and Mac users with Safari 1.2.4 with webkit 125.5.7. In addition, users must have at least version 1.4.2_3 of a Java Virtual Machine on Windows, or version 1.4.2_5 on the Mac.” No Firefox nor Linux users need apply.
For me, that’s a small inconvenience — though when I switched to Safari before filing my return, the site insisted I was still using the wrong browser for some time, before inexplicably granting me access.
But it’s this related tidbit that is both surprising and disturbing. Apparently significant portions of the Canadian census process have been contracted out to Lockheed-Martin. The world’s largest arms manufacturer. Makers of weapons of mass destruction, space-based weapon boondogglers, landmine profiteers and interrogators-for-hire in Afghanistan and Iraq (including nifty work at Abu Ghraib).
Apparently Lockheed has been branching out for some time. From a 2004 article in the New York Times:
Over the last decade, Lockheed, the nation’s largest military contractor, has built a formidable information-technology empire that now stretches from the Pentagon to the post office. It sorts your mail and totals your taxes. It cuts Social Security checks and counts the United States census. It runs space flights and monitors air traffic. To make all that happen, Lockheed writes more computer code than Microsoft.
… “It used to be just an airplane company,” said John Pike, a longtime military analyst and director of GlobalSecurity.org, a research organization in Alexandria, Va. “Now it’s a warfare company. It’s an integrated solution provider. It’s a one-stop shop. Anything you need to kill the enemy, they will sell you.”
As its influence grows, Lockheed is not just seeking to solve the problems of national security. It is framing the questions as well:
Are there too few soldiers to secure the farthest reaches of Iraq? Lockheed is creating robot soldiers and neural software – “intelligent agents” – to do their work. “We’ve now created policy options where you can elect to put a human in or you can elect to put an intelligent agent in place,” Mr. Stevens said.
Are thousands of C.I.A. and Pentagon analysts drowning under a flood of data, incapable of seeing patterns? Lockheed’s “intelligence information factory” will do their thinking for them. Mining and sifting categories of facts – for example, linking an adversary’s movements and telephone calls – would “offload the mental work by making connections,” said Stanton D. Sloane, executive vice president for integrated systems and solutions at Lockheed.
Canadians are assured that “At no point does any contractor collect, handle, or possess confidential census responses.” That settles that, then…