Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Little Common Census

We held a census on Tuesday night.  It was organised so effectively that we're still holding it now.  Policy failures are acceptable, most government policy is the sort of thing you want to fail anyway, but how on earth does a government manage to screw a rather basic administrative exercise like a census?

"They're the government," you might say.  "Screwing stuff up is kind of what they do."  Well, yes but a census of some sort or other has been a fundamental part of government machinery since we've had government machinery.  As soon as one hairy, jawbone wielding thug managed to bully the others into doing what he wanted there has been a need to find out exactly how many people he was bullying and what sort of stuff they had so he could get his hands on it.  The only thing worse would be if the tax department had to admit they had lost all the money somewhere between our hands and its.

The handling of this babbling farce is proof that you can have all the information in the world and still have a lower IQ than God gave to a puddle of water.  With that as an introduction step forward the Australian Bureau of Statistics.  It was going to be so cool.  No need for filling out forms, just log on and pour your details electronically into the government's waiting maw.  Naturally it all went to hell.  The ABS factored a usage rate of half a million people per hour.  IBM, the technology provider, somewhat more sensibly factored in a usage of a million per hour.  The term "somewhat more sensibly" is a relative one.  With several million people all logging in on one night the concept that we might all automatically decide to space our involvement over the course of the evening rather than everyone trying to do it at 7.30 right after dinner was too silly to defend for a moment.

That's before the hacking attempts.  Whether the hacking attempts were made by urban activists violently opposed to governments collecting data on citizens, telemarketers looking for background material or some fourteen year old boy trying to break down the firewalls around Daddy's porn sites the end result was chaos.  Incidentally I note that the activists above are urban because its unlikely that rural activists would actually have been able to get as far as accessing the internet never mind the ABS site.  Still there is some comfort for such people desperately worried that Big Brother is watching them.  These incidents have proved that Big Brother probably isn't watching them and even if they're trying they're probably watching a potato farmer of the same name in Idaho by mistake.  My data has never felt more secure.

Now that this shambling circus is stumbling towards a conclusion one wonders what the consequences will be.  We are told that the census is necessary so that the government can make informed decisions about the future.  So I guess if the government starts making horribly ill conceived decisions in the future we know what to blame.  Frankly I suspect the government would be glad to have such a ready made excuse.

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