The U.S. Census wants people to respond online because it will save them money. They don’t have to transfer data from paper forms and they don’t have to send census workers out. From a pure finance standpoint, it makes perfect sense. The census will cost us about $15 billion this time around.
And, from a typical user’s standpoint, whether the census data is right or wrong won’t change the number of dollars in their pocket, so they don’t really care whether it is correct. That is, of course, a short term perspective.
In fairness, the Census Bureau has been working with Homeland Security to try and protect the first ever digital census, but given the government’s general cybersecurity record, that doesn’t give me a whole lot of hope.
From our adversary’s perspective, destroying normal Americans’ confidence in the Census results would be a good thing.
The Census Bureau plans on telling the 66 million Americans who do not have Internet at home to go to a local public library (that sounds like an awful concept to me, but I understand that the Census Bureau wants to save money).
Consider, however, the track record of public libraries from a cybersecurity perspective. In 2017 hackers successfully attacked 700 public libraries from St. Louis, to Anne Arundel County, MD. to South Carolina, New York and many others.
Library budgets are being slashed across the country, so cybersecurity is probably not their top priority, even if it means that the Census results may be invalid and subject to lawsuits.
The New York Library Association said that state libraries were unprepared for the Census.
Alaska cancelled funding for Internet access at it’s public libraries, so many of those libraries may not even be able to allow residents to complete their Census forms online at all.
If Russia and China decide that creating more chaos would be useful to them, increasing the level of attacks on libraries could happen during the Census filing season.
The Census Bureau, following the tradition that many businesses started years ago, has eliminated or reduced testing as their software is behind schedule. Companies have figured out that was a bad idea, but not the Census Bureau.
For me, paper seems like a much safer idea.
And don’t be surprised if we see a lot of lawsuits. Stock up on popcorn, this could get interesting.