After voting in elections, I doubt there is any civic duty more important than responding to the decennial census. The information it provides to governments for policy making is vital, and often very revealing. It simply is not mentioned enough, but the last time a census was taken, back in 2001, it was found that the population was over a million people smaller than predicted in 2000, and that estimates of the population growth rate, which fueled national hysteria about immigration in the late 1990s were twice what they should have been.
It therefore makes me very sad that the latest census, the first in which I will be able to take part as an adult, is being run by the intelligence gathering arm of the world’s second largest arms dealer, Lockheed Martin. There are two problems with this.
Firstly, as the data is being collected by an American company, and one already working in the fields of intelligence and anti-terrorism, the security of some very personal information could well be compromised. Grave doubts have been raised about the possibility for the data to be seized under the Patriot Act, with Lockheed Martin in no position, either politically or economically, to resist and with a past history of passing on secret information to government clients.
Personally however, this is not the biggest problem for me. Rather it is that Lockheed Martin will use its profits from conducting the UK national census for subsidizing other projects, including the manufacture of Trident nuclear weapons and feeding the arms race across the Middle East. As a Quaker and a pacifist, I cannot allow this to happen without a fight. Although I cannot prevent tax revenues from being used to pay arms dealers, this does not mean that I have to cooperate when they come to call. Therefore, although it is against the law to do so, I find I must chose to withhold my census return this time around.
Of course, the tragedy of this situation is not so much that a few Peaceniks like me might not hand over our census forms when asked to do so. Rather it is that one of our most important civic duties is being sullied and tarnished by association with multinational arms manufacturers. For whatever reason, ethical or practical, people are going to feel unable to cooperate with this census and could have their trust in the state eroded by having to do so. Governments should be making it easy for us to do our civic duty, and to help them make the right choices, and we should not stand by whilst they make it difficult through unnecessary procurement decisions. I hope that by standing up and not being counted in 2011, people like me can help remind future governments of this fact, so that we are not in the same situation in 2021.
Simon Beard is a Quaker, a Philosophy student and a Lib Dem from Sevenoaks, he blogs regularly for ResPublica.