Saturday, 12 March 2011

Feel The Force



The census is upon us here in the UK. That means we get to fill in a questionnaire that ultimately will inform the government just how peculiar the population of our islands really are.
We have to do this every ten years and, for those of you who are no good at maths (for any American readers -  that’s MATHS as opposed to MATH) we did the last one in 2001.
Of course, we made a mockery of the last census in a small way thanks to a campaign to persuade us to record our religion as “Jedi” – and it worked – well sort of. Apparently around 400,000 people in England and Wales stated that their religion was born out of Star Wars (that’s 0.8% of the population).
How crazy is that?
I wonder whether we will do the same this year; perhaps more of us will commit to following the path of Yoda.
Strong with this country the force is.
For 2011, filling in the census is mandatory with the threat of a fine or imprisonment for those who choose to rebel.
This threat awakens the anarchist within me.
On the whole I kind of agree with the census because it provides useful information for future generations as well as interesting statistics for the current generation (not necessarily including those who follow the path of the light sabre that is). Nevertheless when your government resorts to threats and scare tactics to force people to do something, the ranting, raving revolutionary within me grabs his sword and urges me to leap on my horse and storm the Houses of Parliament demanding the head of David Cameron on a spike.
Of course, I can subdue this warrior – but it still annoys me.
Furthermore, it makes me think to myself – what would I do if the men in black came for me?
Would I stand up and fight them?
Would I scream defiantly as they dragged me into a van to cart me off to the magistrate?
No – of course not. I would almost certainly run away, filling in the census as I fled, screaming “I didn’t mean it!!”
Mrs PM informed me that this will probably be the last census in the UK, for various reasons. The most likely reason is that it will save the government money (chasing down census-avoiding criminals no doubt), but it is possible that in ten years’ time, the government will be able to extract as much information about people as they want from the internet or their very own databases.
And this prompts me to ask another rhetorical question: how easy would it be to get myself off the grid?
Could I disappear easily, leaving no trace?
To answer, that I need to consider how much information there is about me in cyberspace or on national and international databases. And I imagine it is quite a lot.
First of all, I have voluntarily inserted data about myself onto the internet, not least this very blog. I don’t think it would be very difficult for you, dear reader, if you had an insane moment, to try to track me down from The Plastic Mancunian, The Plastic Mancunian’s Eye or The China Chronicles. And of course, I have a Facebook account, a Twitter account and bits and pieces are scattered over other social network sites, no doubt.
Moreover, I have been to quite a few countries, having had to show my passport on every single occasion. I have had visas for Russia, China and Thailand as well as entering countries like Canada, Australia, most of Europe, Thailand, Hong Kong , South Africa etc. Each time, my whereabouts have been recorded.
America is possibly the worst of all. On my two recent trips across the pond, my fingerprints have been taken, so I am probably in the FBI and CIA databases.
I’ve have stayed in hotels that have a record of how long I was a resident for, what I ate when I was there and how much I spent in the bar.
Lots of institutions, councils and government departments have my details on record in the UK.
That means that my life could be tracked probably from a very early age, including most of my movements, my finances, my trips abroad, my jobs, my education etc., enabling any determined researcher to possibly produce a fairly accurate plan of my life so far.
Scary isn’t it?
So is it really possible to become invisible to the authorities? After all, Lord Lucan managed it didn’t he?
I think it’s too late and probably impossible to remove any information about me that currently exists. But I do speculate about how difficult it would be to vanish from this point onwards.
First of all, I would change my Twitter and Facebook statuses to “Buggering off!” and, of course, I would have to ditch the blogs (stop cheering!!!).
Next I would have to sell the house and withdraw all of my cash from the bank and carry it around in a suitcase – a dangerous thing to do. And then I would simply pay cash to escape my wonderful island and disappear into the vast world, as a ghost – a kind of stunted, ugly Jason Bourne!
It wouldn’t be easy, would it? And it also wouldn’t be pleasant.
I don’t think I’ll bother, which unfortunately, dear reader, means that you are stuck with me and the drivel that pours forth from my weird mind.
I can’t possibly imagine anybody wanting to use the vast quantities of useless information out there about me, to stalk me or hunt me down. I’m not likely to ever do anything that would bring the authorities crashing through my door – unless they read this blog and want to imprison me for crimes against blogging.
If that does happen, they had better watch out. I am considering becoming a Jedi and I may have Yoda here to protect me with his light sabre when the governmental forces come to get me.
Sense you know it makes

12 comments:

The Elephant's Child said...

Every now and then the amount of my personal information out there scares me. Until I remember that I am boring as bat shit, and wouldn't excite any body/organisation enought to follow me up.
So glad however that you are staying around.

Kath Lockett said...

Ah yes, in the 2006 census here down under around 10% of people put 'jedi' in the 'other' section of the religion question.

Not surprisingly it was omitted during the next round!

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi EC,

Me too - and that's a good thing I reckon. However, if I allowed the warrior to escape - I might suddenly become interesting.

:0)

Cheers

PM

The Plastic Mancunian said...

G'Day Kath,

It doesn't surprise me that Australians did the same - after all, we are very similar in our outlook on life.

I wonder whether Americans would do it?

:0)

Cheers

PM

drb said...

In singapore, you would be given a 7-digit number when you were born, i.e., the number on your birth cert. The first 2 digits will be the year you are born in. This number will become your identification (ID) card number, driver's licence number, your passport number, retirement fund number and your death cert number. All the databases are linked, your hospital fee will be charged according to your income bracket once you presented your ID card. The government is pushing out a smart ID card which you can use as a credit card too. Big brother definitely watching....

Pandora Behr said...

Ah, Kath beat me to it. Mind you, censuses, though they seem useless at the time, do give them a very good idea of what is going so they can plan things better. They have great information - but they're crap at planning... well that's what I reckon.

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi drb,

Crikey, in a weird way, the Singapore system kind of makes sense - but it is a little unnerving at the same time.

The UK is supposedly one of the most spied on nations in the world. There is CCTV everywhere "for our protection and piece of mind" - which meant aht they probably know my movements around Manchester too.

Scary...

:0)

Cheers

PM

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Pand,

I agree - good information, particularly if you look at past census information. I managed to look at the 1901 UK census (well the bits they would let you look at for free) and spotted my Grandad.

I'm tempted to trawl a bit deeper actually - maybe when I need a new hobby.

:0)

Cheers

PM

River said...

In our last census, my entire family put Rastafarian, just for the heck of it. The one before that we were all either atheist or pagan.
i've sometimes wondered myself how easy or hard it would be to disappear completely. I would think a single person with no family ties and no close friends would manage it easier than someone like you or me with family and friends.

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi River,

Ha Ha - I like Rastafarian and Pagan but I think I prefer Jedi.

I agree - it would be very difficult to disappear without severing all ties with family and friends. And that simply isn't worth it.

:0)

Cheers

PM

I Love-Hate America by Bing said...

In the US, we don't need to fill a lot of information especially personal such as religion. We are asked only our ages, the number of people living in the habitat , ethnicity, and marital status. I believe the U.S. census is for population count and demographic information.
Google and the internet is scarier than the government.

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Bingkee,

The religion question is optional and a lot of people choose to ignre it.

To be honest, I tell the truth - I answer "Christian" which encompasses everything related to christianity - including Catholicism.

:0)

Cheers

PM