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February 3, 2000     Beverly Hills Weekly
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February 3, 2000
 

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citywatch Meanie, Miney, Census 2000: Ennie00leans Me AHigher Count More Dough By Ellen Stern Harris The last time questionnaires were sent out to Beverly Hills residents, by the U.S. Census Bureau, as many as 40% of the recipients declined to fill them out and send them back. It wasn't the ex- pense, as postage paid envelopes were provided. This meant that, at considerable addi- tional cost, employees of the bureau tried to get the questions answered over the phone. When that failed, at even greater expense, the bureau sent out its troops to knock on the doors of those from whom answers were urgently sought. Why does it matter so much? It's not just because the U.S. Constitution requires that a census be taken every 10 years. The information obtained is relied upon to determine how much money will be allocated for federal, state and local programs. The more people from a given community who participate in the census, the more money will come back to that community. Don Oblander, the City's director of finance, estimates that an undercount could cost as much as $100 per capita. The census is also relied upon to determine the size and shape of legisla- tive districts at every level of.govern- ment. Yes, it really does matter. Then, why are so many people reluctant to fill out their questionnaires? It may be fear of a possible breach of confidentiality. However, some take comfort in knowing that even when the FBI and the U.S. Justice department tried to get clas- sifted data from the Census Bureau, the courts refused to let them. Reluctance to respond, could be due to the proliferation of computers and the growing skills of hackers. Even though the Census Bureau says it's data is secure on dedicated lines, some of us are skittish. Speaking generically, Charles Neal, Supervisor of the FBI's Los Angeles Regional Computer Crime Squad reports that "Every day there are many, many intrusions, even in major corporations with very competent administrators. New vulnerabilities are discovered every day. Software combi- nations are changed continually. Com- puter security is a constantly moving tar- get." He should know. In November of last year, shortly after a BHPD watch com- mander discovered that our City's web- site had been hacked, the FBI found out too. That was by monitoring a website where hackers brag to each other about their latest "achievements." None of this may apply to the comput- ers at the Census Bureau. And the penal- ties for employees caught improperly taking or giving out data, may be as much as five years in prison and $5000 in fines. Still some of us are not at all comfortable returning a questionnaire that reveals more than we'd like. In fact, I'm not sure that I would encourage an elderly, disabled woman, living alone to reveal these details, along with her income and address, as request- ed by the census' long form. You may recall the Libertarian view of the draft: "If this country isn't worth fighting for voluntarily, it isn't worth fighting for at all." Their take on the census, according to Jesse Walker the associate editor of the Libertarian's Reason magazine, is: "It's one thing to just do what the Constit- ution allows. That is, to count the citi- zens in order to apportion representa- fives and taxes. It's quite another, to probe into everything from our income to our kitchen facilities. That's nothing less than an attack on Americans' priva- cy." It's your taxes, your data and your choice. I Ellen Stem Harris is a long time resident of Beverly Hills and executive director of The Fund for The Environment. 6 The Telephone Connection Serving Beverly Hills since 1988 Voice Mail Service Doctor's Service Local and Long Distance Phone Service "Follow Me" and Conference Call Service 310 -789 -7900 February 3-9, 2000 9