Values in a National Information Infrastructure: A Case Study of the US Census

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Citation 14th International Conference of the Society of Philosophy and Technology in Delft, The Netherlands, July 2005.
AuthorTimothy M. Weber


In July of this year, the Census Bureau complied with a request from the Department of Homeland Security and released to the Customs and Border Protection division a specialized compilation of demographic tabulations on the Arab-American population (specifically tabulations outlining urban areas with more than 10,000 inhabitants reporting Arab descent and zip-code specific tabulations subdivided by country of origin). While the sharing of information between the two agencies was declared "common practice," the public outcry which resulted prompted the Census Bureau to revise its information-sharing policies - requiring all special data requests from law enforcement and intelligence agencies to undergo review by an appropriate Associate Director. In light of this controversy, this paper seeks to flesh out the relationship between the American census, public concerns over privacy, and technology. By tracing this triangulated relationship throughout U.S. census history, I will argue for the importance of keeping census practices both reflexive and transparent.

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