Lockheed Martin and the 2011 census
Someone on Twitter this morning highlighted to me the annoyance that was raging online over the Office for National Statistics’ decision to award a significant portion of the 2011 census contract to Lockheed Martin. The rage was encompassed in the Census Alert website, and was specifically directed at LM being the world’s number one military contractor and arms exporter, its involvement in Iraq and the “War on Terror” (their quotes, not mine), and its involvement in the Echelon global surveillance network.
I’m guessing that some of these credentials did not adversely affect LM being selected by governments on both sides of the Atlantic for defence-related contracts. Yet it seems moral grounds should be included as an evaluation criterion in the OJEU process for census data processing.
First, some facts. LM seems to have a good track record in this field. It provided the data capture elements of the UK’s census of 2001, as well as being involved in censuses for Canada and the USA.
LM has worked on technical systems supporting Scotland and Northern Ireland’s air traffic control and the Royal Mail’s post sorting operations. And it is considered sufficiently trustworthy to provide the Metropolitan Police with a new Command, Control, Communication and Information System.
And it certainly has strong financial backing for the £150m contract, with a market capitalisation of $28bn and a 2009 net income a little over $3bn.
Now to the campaign. And here’s the most bizarre bit. Beyond the arguments listed above, there’s this nugget below:
We are not opposed to the Census itself. Aggregated, the information collected is important in allocating resources to local authorities and public services.
But personal privacy is important too, and we are concerned that Lockheed Martin’s involvement could undermine public confidence in the process and lead to inaccurate data being collected.
That second paragraph is important. The campaign itself is advertising and making an issue of LM’s involvement in the census. Yet they are worried that awareness of such involvement could undermine public confidence, leading to inaccuracies.
It’s highly unlikely that the contract will be withdrawn from LM as a result of the campaign. And so the campaign is only likely to exacerbate one of the very issues it is worried about: inaccuracies. (Although I very much doubt that the campaign will be seen by sufficient people to have a statistically significant impact on the census results.)
The government must, and does, have criteria determining which organisations can be selected to provide its services—terrorist organisations, for example, are out. But if Lockheed Martin pass muster to provide our missiles, then why not for optical character recognition of our census data? Or should we use different moral selection criteria depending on the government department procuring the services?