Episode 92: Chilly Conned Census

Transcript of Live Chat (you should have been there…)

Show Notes:


The Obligatory Bieber Link: David vs. Goliath as Bieber takes on Shaq

The Grand Marshall: McLuhan’s Legacy Lives On 99 Years Later

The Con Some Care About: San Diego Comicon Opens

Come Again?: Ottawa Funds Adult Film Editing – wait, no they don’t!

Comes At Last: NetFlix Finds Canada

Full Dysclosure

Anth gambles on Vegas...

Mike rambles on cognitive surplus…


Listen and learn…or just read here how you can get a mention.  Leave a comment, mention us in a tweet, etc, etc.  Then you get a shout-out.  Yes, it’s that simple.  All the cool kids are doing it!

Howdy to our Twitter pals, a #FollowFriday will be yours again this week.

And much love to our chat room participants!


Something a little different this week: Tennessee Ten – Waitin’ for the Evenin’ Mail (courtesy of archive.org)

Note: There were no upcoming tour dates for this musical artist available…


  1. Hi Mike, fun podcast! Thanks for the mention. Great points on additional uses for cognitive surplus, you hit the nail on the head – time with family is a fantastic use of your “free time”.

  2. Awesome couple of Rants, there Anth! Mike sounded like he was getting ready with the ice water to cool you off before your head exploded! I very much approve, guys! Nice mix. Now, to get enough people to hear them…

  3. If Ottawa could fund me for ranting… I’d be a happy man. Of course, I suppose I could just get a bunch of people to vote for me, then all of Ottawa would have to listen to my rants on a regular basis!

  4. Census: They tried an online census in 2006, and there were problems. I was quite critical, as were a number of cryptographers. The basic issue is that they “secured” the census by protecting the census bureau against the owners of computers, and refused to disclose to anyone the actual security model they were using. In other words it was a model of “You must trust us, and we will take measures against you as you are untrustworthy” type of model. It was much like “DRM” which is all about not trusting individual technology owners, and refusing to disclose what is being protected from who.

    This is entirely different than electronic banking or even tax filing where each end of the connection is trusted, and it is third parties that the technology is protecting against.

    This is also very different than voting, where neither endpoint can or should be trusted by anyone concerned — which is why online and electronic voting is *MUCH* harder than silly-simply things like banking. And why we need to have voter verifiable ballots, physical or otherwise, and should never allow ballot-less electronic voting.

    Census also used the Secure Channel system, which was also mentioned in the 2003 auditor generals report as a failure — so it is not surprising that the analysis of its use by the Census was thought by experts to be a failure.

    Example article from 2006: http://BillC32.ca/2425

    Cognitive Surplus: I think the term “surplus” was misunderstood. It doesn’t mean “that which is not economically exploited by an employer”. If you are a parent, the time you spend with your children is not “surplus” but an active part of your life. Not everyone has surplus: there is far more surplus in so-called “rich” countries (those that most exploit those in other countries…) than other countries, and there is more surplus in the middle and upper classes than those who are more poor.

    I take time off work to do volunteer work relating to policy work, but I don’t consider that part of my cognitive surplus but unpaid work.

    What is being noticed is that those who have surplus are able to collaborate with others with the use of new technology to do things that weren’t possible. Tiny inputs over a large number of people end up being a large output.

    Quality of output? It’s not like the 308 people in the federal parliament are the smartest people in the country, or the people with the most merit. All too often they are just a biological placeholder in a riding for a political party which people in a given geographical area blindly vote for.

    I find it interesting that people think the wisdom (or lack there of) of the crowds is a new technological phenomena, rather than being a long standing part of social sciences. Communications technology allows this wisdom (or lack) to be more widely visible, but that doesn’t mean that when we didn’t know how stupid some of our decisions makers were that they were somehow smarter.

    Ideocracy (great movie, BTW): Maybe the problem is the nuclear family? Rina and I don’t have children, but we are actively involved in the lives of some twins who kinda adopted us nearly 3 years ago now. They say that it takes a village to raise a child, and I worry that far too much of western culture is focused on the nuclear family and not that village.

  5. Hey Russell,

    I’ll be the first one to admit that setting up a secure online system for a census would be fraught with cynicism. Further, I think the trust issue is far bigger than the technology issue. That said, I don’t know what allows us to believe the current system is any more secure or free from manipulation other than tradition. Once the forms are filled out, someone is inputting all of them (or leaving some out) and all of the stats generated are subject to the same spin.

    I don’t know why I should trust a pencil on paper to provide more secure information. I also don’t understand how Canada Post is more secure for privacy than a server. That’s all it would take is a lost mailbag from one postal code or an incorrect input from a keypunch operator and things fall apart.

    Having scrutineered at polling stations for several elections, it would not take much in many ridings for ballots or boxes to be misappropriated if someone knew what they were doing.

    At this point, StatsCan can probably get more complete information about 17 million Canadians through the Facebook API anyway.

  6. For census, we agree. It is entirely a failed implementation issue, and having secure forms without downloading an application to the end users computer could be made as secure (assuming some competent people on the back-end to ensure that the Internet facing machines don’t keep any data long term, etc).

    It is also wrong to claim a system is secure when the implementer claims that it would be broken into if the methodologies were disclosed. Security by obscurity is no security at all. The census must be trusted and trustworthy by citizens, and it is entirely a matter of citizenship (trust to give data, trust of the resulting aggregated data, etc) and not a matter of government at all.

    Stop offering that trust, or think it is a government program, and you’ll quickly find a citizenry that wants to abolish the census entirely.

    Secure Channel was just a bad idea — it became a matter of signing up with a vendor specific solution (Entrust) rather than signing on to a series of vendor neutral standards. It’s the same type of IT failure that was at the basis of the gun registry boondoggle/etc.

    As to elections, it is more complex. If you just do electronic voting the way they do in the USA, then it is the author of the software that essentially determines the outcome of the election. With ballots you can do recounts on software written by opponents to see if there are discrepancies. I’m all for technology making a process easier, but not when the process is entirely different and people simply use “Err — it’s a computer” as an excuse for not even noticing.

    Facebook? I wouldn’t trust that data. It is interesting that some of the folks I’ve bumped into that are opposed to the long form enforcement (which has, BTW, never been enforced) are extremely public people already on social media.

    Oh, and by the way, the “Jedi” issue isn’t the issue that the Conservatives think it is. They think this is people putting in fake data, as opposed to people whose religious beliefs are closer to the explanation of the force in Star Wars than it is to any organised religion. Too many yahoos are misrepresenting what us Jedi really are saying. Saying atheist or even agnostic isn’t correct for someone who is spiritual, just not religious.

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