Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On intrusions

The Cons are receiving more international attention for their complete failures at home, this time in the form of another denunciation of their choice to gut the long-form census. But Nature's reporting raises another point which has (in retrospect surprisingly) escaped notice so far:
Industry Minister Tony Clement has defended the decision to shift to a voluntary long-form survey, saying it’s vital to protect privacy and assuring critics that Ottawa will still get plenty of responses. (The response rate to the mandatory census was in the 90 per cent plus range.)

But the Nature opinion piece authors warn that citizens are fatigued by requests for voluntary disclosure of information.

“In increasing numbers, people can’t be bothered to respond to information requests,” Profs. Prewitt and Fienberg say.

“Telemarketing has soured the environment for phone interviews and junk mail clutters e-mail inboxes. Who has time to distinguish legitimate surveys from the flood of look-alikes?”
Of course, Clement has also raised the theory that any other organizations wanting census-type data should commission separate polling for themselves. And leaving aside the fact that voluntary polling can't replicate the accuracy and reliability of census data, it's worth noting the seemingly inevitable end result of that invitation when it comes to the sheer volume of attempts to contact Canadians.

After all, if provinces, municipalities and private-sector actors decide to close as many of the gaps in federal data as they can through their own polling, the end result is that citizens will be bombarded with all the more calls and appeals from private firms - likely many times over the current amount of polling as information is collected solely by single parties rather than being made available for multiple groups' use like census data. And there's no reason to think consumers would be protected from a tidal wave of new calls, as the Cons have proven themselves to be entirely negligent in doing anything about abuse of the do-not-call list or any other private-sector intrusions into personal space and time.

In other words the tradeoff for the Cons' myopic focus on getting government out of the business of governing is...far more disruptive polling from private firms which they have no intention of regulating.

So next time your personal time is interrupted by an unwanted call from a pollster, think of Tony Clement - and remember that the Cons' idiocy figures to cause at least as many harmful effects for the general public as for the planners the Cons seem eager to attack.

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