My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Posts Tagged ‘security’

No Facebook while working at the Census Bureau? No reading blogs either?

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Federal News Radio presents us with the following piece about procedural changes at the Census Bureau:

By Rachel Stevens
Federal News Radio

Checking your Facebook page or browsing the Internet at work could be causing more than just procrastination. It could lead to serious security breaches.

A new policy at the Census Bureau allows managers to revoke Internet access for employees that repeatedly fail to follow security measures.

“I don’t foresee it being something that’s abused” says Tim Ruland, Chief Information Technology Security Officer at the Census Bureau. “I think it’s going to be used very cautiously because, let’s face it, it’s an Internet world. It’s an option. It’s a management option. It’s not something we’re advocating…The manager needs to determine that. It’s a risk-based decision.”

He says his office does keep records of the amount of incidents associated with a particular employee. That also means tracking in-bound and out-bound traffic and worker use patterns. He will release this data to managers to help them make decisions, Ruland says, but he insists his office is “not the police.”

Ruland says his office has to reimage 25-30 computers per month because of inappropriate surfing and use of social networking websites like Facebook. He says this creates significant productivity loss.

“When you have to reimage a PC, you’re taking staff away from the IT directorate, but more importantly you’re taking the ability of that individual to do their job,” Ruland says.

In an attempt to respond to the growing cybersecurity problem, Ruland says his office has been working on a Web surfing handbook for new employees.

“We determined that there was a need to try and give something to somebody that they could have at their desk, that we could give them when they come in. Kind of a simple: ‘You’re at the Census Bureau; this is what you should think about.’”

He says the first draft of the guide is almost complete. It will eventually be distributed to new employees at orientations along with a general IT security handbook that is already distributed.

“It’s based on things that we’re seeing: what they should worry about when they’re going on Facebook, what they should worry about when they’re going on the Web and doing their business or surfing,” Ruland says.

Security Alert: Haz-Mat teams at Baltimore Census processing facility…again.

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

From the Baltimore Sun…too bad this plot line never made it into The Wire:

Suspicious powder was found this morning at a processing center of the U.S. Census Bureau in Essex, though it was found to be harmless.

The Baltimore County police and fire departments were called around 10 a.m. to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Data Capture Center, in the 8400 block of Kelso Drive, to examine a package containing a small amount of powder, said Elise Armacost, the fire department spokeswoman.

“We did not evacuate the building, no one was showing symptoms, there were no transports,” Armacost said. “People were removed from the immediate vicinity while we were testing.”

The substance was deemed non-threatening, Armacost said.

The plant — which processes 2010 Census questionnaires as they are returned — resumed operations by early afternoon, said Markia McLeod, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Census Bureau.

McLeod said that Baltimore County Hazmat teams have responded to the Essex facility for six incidents since it opened last year. The last time was in March, when powder found inside a census envelope turned out to be coffee creamer.

– Erica L. Green

MyTwoCensus Investigation: Is your census data really “confidential” if it’s being shared with private and public universities?

Monday, February 15th, 2010

The following report comes from the Associated Press…Let’s just hope that the researchers at university data centers take good care of your personal data, because any breach could have dire consequences. We will continue to explore this subject in the coming days to determine precisely which (if any) data from the decennial census will be distributed to universities. MyTwoCensus.com supports higher education and demographic research, but if neither the President nor the FBI can’t (in theory, but not in practice…) access census data, then neither should private citizens at universities.

Palo Alto, Calif. (AP) — Stanford University is preparing to launch a high-security data center, where researchers will analyze some of the most confidential Census information. The Stanford facility, which opens this month, will serve as a satellite center to the one at University of California, Berkeley. There are only a handful of other such data centers in the country — at top research schools, including Duke, Cornell and UCLA. C. Matthew Snipp, a Stanford demographer who will head the new center, says the data being handled there is much more detailed than what’s released publicly. The information feeds studies by economists, sociologists and public health researchers, among others. Snipp says the center will be under strict security measures to protect people’s privacy.

UPDATE: The San Francisco Chronicle has posted a more comprehensive version of this story HERE.

The Suitland Files: Inside The Census Bureau (Part 2)

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

I apologize for taking so long to post the second half of the series that I started nearly two weeks ago, but I’ve been traveling extensively and things were getting quite hectic. Without further ado, I present to you an inside look into my meeting with top communications/public relations/press officials at the Census Bureau’s HQ in Washington, DC:

After making idle chit-chat about Europe, climate change, and Dr. Groves’ travel habits (like any good reporter, I try to extract information wherever possible) for more than half an hour with two private security guards inside their security booth on the perimeter of the Census Bureau’s fenced off headquarters (they refused to let me sit on a bench outside even though it was a warm day…), I was greeted by Derick Moore (who Steve Jost authorizes to make the official Census Bureau comments on MyTwoCensus posts) and Eun Kim, a new Census Bureau PR official who until very recently was a DC reporter for Gannett (hmmm…I wonder why she jumped over to the dark side…).

After clearing a round of metal detectors, I made my way up the elevator with my two aforementioned handlers. I was led to a waiting room where I made some chit chat with Derick and Eun who each told me about their careers in private sector media. (I pray every day that the allure of a solid government salary with good benefits doesn’t one day catch up with me too…) Steve Jost, chowing down on a sandwich and french fries, returned and had us follow him into his office. We all sat down, with me at the head of the table. With white hair and a bit of scruff on his face, Jost wasn’t the devilish and egotistical Nazi I expected he might be, but rather a jovial guy who immediately poked fun at my comments about him on this site. I replied that I made those comments when I was thousands of miles away in the safety of my own home, and I had never expected to be sitting down with him in person. But I had no regrets. My job is to be a watchdog, and a vigilant watchdog I will be.

Last to arrive at our meeting was Stephen Buckner, the mouthpiece of the 2010 Census (spokesman) who had the boyish charm of a high school quarterback. I’m sure that fifteen years ago he easily cruised his way to a victory during elections for homecoming king.

Jost was the leader of this round-table, so between french fries he started firing off all of the positive accomplishments that he and his team have made, while clearly avoiding any of the shortcomings. Here’s a rundown of the most interesting things that he said:

1. High unemployment rates and homeowners losing their homes to foreclosure will cause problems with the 2010 Census.

2. The hardest group to count is “young, unattached people” who move frequently, only have cell phones, are between jobs or studies, etc. — NOT immigrants or minorities, as one might expect from all of the Census Bureau’s hard-to-count group advertising…(MyTwoCensus will investigate this further in the near future!)

3. The Census Bureau has created a series of ads using pop music…get ready to find these on your TV screens starting in early January.

4. The participation rate in the Census increased for the first time since 1970 in 2000, despite general trends that fewer and fewer people are involved in civic activities like voting, performing jury duty, etc. Hopefully they can once again reverse this trend in 2010.

5. 95% of media consumers will be reached multiple times by 2010 Census advertising campaigns.

6. 53% of 2010 Census advertising is local. 47% is national. (Note: MyTwoCensus has not heard back yet as to whether our proposal to let the Census Bureau advertise for the 2010 Census on this site was accepted…)

7. Spoiler Alert: Sesame Street will be featuring a 2010 Census storyline via The Count and Rosita characters.

8. 2010.Census.gov was redesigned.

9. Though 173 forms of social media have been integrated with Census Bureau awareness efforts, no I-Phone Application has been created for the 2010 Census.

10. The 2010 Census forms will be mailed to all households in America (hopefully) on March 17, 2010. (Let’s hope drunken St. Patty’s day revelers don’t interfere with the efforts of the U.S. Postal Service…)

11. When selecting advertisements for the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau asks the creative directors of 12 different advertising firms to submit proposals via a “creative rumble.”

12. Hopefully there won’t be a repeat of the 2000 Advance Letter Debacle in 2010…

13. There will be extra Census Bureau staff in New Orleans to personally hand deliver 2010 Census questionnaires to every household.

14. The address canvassing portion of the 2010 Census provided data that there are approximately 134 million individual housing units in the US, down from original estimates of 140 million.

15. Many addresses in places like Las Vegas where construction on homes was started but never finished have been deleted from the 2010 Census rolls.

16. Very, very, very few people hired to work for the Census Bureau as temporary workers have quit during the 2009-2010 cycle, as other jobs are extremely scarce.

17. On November 17 at 9:30am, Dr. Robert M. Groves will be holding his next monthly “State of the 2010 Census” address…

I was given some handouts (drawings of a 2010 Census logo on a NASCAR racecar that will be unveiled soon), portions of powerpoints (that showed me data about levels of Census participation), and had the opportunity to see one of the hip-hop music based commercials that was recently shot in LA and will soon be airing nationwide. It was a smooth operation, and my questions were answered well. Were the answers necessarily honest? No. But did the PR team effectively do their jobs to give give off the image of squeaky clean 2010 Census communications operations? Absolutely.

The Census Bureau’s Unintentional Jobs-For-Felons Program

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

The following piece was written by David Allburn, who owns National Fingerprints, LLC and does not represent the views of Stephen Robert Morse or MyTwoCensus.com.  It should be noted that the Census Bureau rejected David’s unsolicited proposal to integrate his company’s services into 2010 Census security procedures.

To assure integrity and to comfort the public, Congress insisted on a fingerprint background check of canvassers for the 2000 census. The Bureau begged-off that time on grounds of insufficient time and funds, but promised they would do both a name-check and a fingerprint check for the 2010 census.

Next March the Bureau will mass-hire more than 500,000 canvassers to visit homes that did not fill out the form. Evident to the canvassers will be: Which homes have burglar alarms, disabled children present, an overworked single mom, expensive décor and vehicles, etc. Such “data” is not sought by the 2010 census. And it probably IS unthinkable that a census canvasser would assault or steal from homeowners during their census visit. But if a census worker was previously arrested for such crimes there is increased risk they might seek to list such unofficial “data” for use in criminal activity later. That is probably what Congress was concerned about when they insisted that former felons not be hired as canvassers.

It might have been tolerable in the 2000 census that only a couple of assaults were committed by canvassers, but the 2010 census will be different. Not just because there are a lot more felons on the street, and a lot fewer recession-jobs for them, but because the Census Bureau screening method for canvasser candidates will attract them.

Felons will automatically resort to half-century-old methods for evading the criminal history name check and fingerprint check. These obvious methods will work this time because the Bureau has chosen fingerprint procedures and policies which are a full century-old. The situation was fully described to the Census Bureau in a classified section of our August 2008 proposal. The first part, about felons getting hired, was publicized in the recent GAO report and the Senate hearing. The second part, about attracting felons to apply in the first place, was not. We begged Census program office officials to consider the impact of this on public confidence and the Bureau’s PR expenditures should it leak out. Sadly, it doesn’t have to leak. It’s evident to felons already, and will probably be left to YouTube and Jay Leno to “further advise” America about it. I hate to think of Jay Leno “interviewing” (comedians) Gilbert Gottfried as the print-taker engaged in fingerprinting applicant Fred Willard.

Knowing that bad prints generate a “you’re hired” outcome, felons will do what they already do to get a job: Use the internet to obtain fake names and buy convincing credentials that pass the name check. Now trainees, they will exploit the 100-year-old “grapple method” of fingerprint capture selected by the Bureau. In this method the Bureau’s “print-takers” grasp each of the trainee’s inked fingers one at a time and roll it onto a card like it was a rubber stamp. If several prints are blurry the print-taker has to start over. But time is limited, and the process depends on GOOD COOPERATION BY THE TRAINEE.

There is cooperation all right, but it not good. While the print-taker grasps each of the fingers, the applicant feigns helplessness, and causes the finger to squirm, tremble, or press down too hard on the card. Since there is limited time for re-takes the trainee just runs-out-the-clock. This forces the unreadable prints to be routinely shipped to the central card-scan facility where they are scanned into, and rejected by, the FBI. Since re-takes are logistically impossible, the felon gets hired as if he passed anyway, by reverting to reliance on the (fake) name check.

Our proposal warned strenuously about this vulnerability, not only for the predictable 20% rejection rate, but also for the liability: If poor print quality were to cost honest trainees their jobs, it could create a cause-of-action because the blurry prints were arguably the fault of the print-taker, not the applicant. (It appears that consideration of this risk may have caused the absurd “you’re hired” policy when prints are unreadable.) We considered this information so sensitive at the time that we packaged it into a classified section of our proposal. It showed exactly how to plug this gaping security weakness with two simple steps:

(1) The Bureau should announce that trainees are responsible for the “readability” of their own fingerprints, and that fingerprint “failure” due to un-readability (or to discovery of disqualifying criminal history), terminates the canvasser’s employment. This stops attracting ex-felons who would intentionally blur their prints, but it is manifestly unfair to honest workers whose fingerprints are blurred by the inexperienced print-takers. This is fixed by step two.

(2) The Bureau should augment its fingerprint capture by adopting part of our patented “self-capture” technique. Invented by a war veteran, the method has applicants use an extra minute or two to make their own set of “backup prints”, observed and authenticated by the print-taker. Barcoded and enclosed with the cards forwarded to the scanning center, those self-captured prints are readily available for fixing any individual print impressions found “bad.” Well tested, this gets the cards through the FBI with the same dependability as live-scanning offers, typically twenty times better than the old rubber-stamp method now in use.

For the few cases where prints are still unreadable the fault lies clearly with the applicant and not the Census Bureau’s print-taker. This forestalls thoughts of lawsuits and class actions. The method fits easily into the current logistics, gets everyone’s prints promptly evaluated by the FBI as intended, doesn’t require logistically impossible re-takes, and discourages ex-felons from trying to exploit the process.

All that’s needed is for the Bureau to invite an amendment to the proposal. A better/faster/cheaper method, simpler than the full-blown method originally proposed, is described in the patent and is readily available and easily deployed to fit the existing logistics. Fortunately it’s neither too late nor too expensive to fix the problem.

One last thing: The Census Bureau is getting a bad rap on print-taker training. They must have trained them well, and the print-takers must be good at it, because those folks are apparently achieving the same 20% FBI reject-ratio that experienced law enforcement officers get, those few who still use that old manual card-rolling method.

Census Bureau Press Release: Frequently Asked Questions on Death of William E. Sparkman, Jr.

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Frequently Asked Questions on Death of William E. Sparkman, Jr.

Statement from Census Bureau Director Bob Groves:

“We are all deeply saddened by the loss of our co-worker, William Sparkman. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Sparkman’s family and friends. We are monitoring the developments closely.

“The work of everyone in the Census Bureau depends on the success of our field representatives. They are the front line of the work we do. Mr. Sparkman was a shining example of the hard-working men and women the Census Bureau has in the field. The work they do on a daily basis is not easy but is a great and important service to our nation.”

Q: What can you tell us about the investigation or the circumstances of Mr. Sparkman’s death?

    A:  The extent of information we have about the investigation is that the FBI is currently gathering evidence to determine whether this death was the result of foul play. Any other questions related to the investigation or the circumstances surrounding Mr. Sparkman’s death should be directed to:
    • Kyle Edelen
    • Kentucky U.S. Attorney’s Office
    • 859-685-4811

Q: When did the Census Bureau learn of Mr. Sparkman’s death?

    A:  After the Census Bureau was informed of this tragedy by the FBI on September 12, Census Bureau Director Bob Groves and local regional director Wayne Hatcher flew to Kentucky to meet with law enforcement officials and the family of Mr. Sparkman to convey our condolences and to offer any assistance they could. They also met with other Census Bureau field representatives in the area to share our grief, to thank them for their service, and to advise them to seek any counseling that they might wish to have.

Q: Are you worried about the safety of other Census Bureau staff?

    A: We have no information that this tragedy was related Mr. Sparkman’s work with the Census Bureau. Over the past decade Census employees have maintained a high level of safety on the job.
    Employees learn that safety is of the utmost importance from their first day on the job, when they receive intensive training on steps they can take to protect themselves in a variety of settings. All employees receive ongoing reminders to take safety precautions when they are in the field. That practice will continue. Violence against Census Bureau employees is extremely rare.

Q: How many people are going door to door in the field?

A: We have an ongoing workforce of approximately 5,900 field representatives who conduct the American Community Survey and other surveys the Census Bureau conducts throughout the year and throughout the decade. In the spring of 2010 we will have nearly 700,000 temporary workers in the field conducting follow-up on the 2010 Census.

Investigative Series: Spotlight on Harris Corp. (Part 4)

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

On April 18, 2009, an under-reported yet monumental transaction took place between the Harris Corporation (the company responsible for creating the failing handheld computers used for 2010 Census operations) and Tyco Electronics (formerly part of the company with the same first name responsible for one of 2002′s most notorious financial scandals).

According to Data Week, “Tyco Electronics has entered into a definitive agreement to sell its wireless systems business to Harris Corporation for $675 million in cash, subject to final working capital adjustments. Tyco’s wireless systems business generated sales of $461 million in fiscal 2008. The transaction is subject to customary regulatory approvals and is expected to close toward the end of 2009.”

MyTwoCensus is concerned because it is unclear at this point is whether 2010 Census data can be accessed by these companies. It is unknown whether meta-crawlers (excuse the Google jargon) have been installed in the handheld devices created by Harris that could potentially share private and proprietary data with these corporations.

Here’s the official description of Tyco Electronics Wireless Systems:

“Tyco Electronics Wireless Systems is a leading supplier of critical communications systems and equipment for public safety, utility, federal, transportation and select commercial markets. Tyco Electronics Wireless Systems products range from some of the most advanced IP-based voice and data networks to traditional wireless systems that offer customers the highest levels of reliability, interoperability, scalability and security. More information about Tyco Electronics Wireless Systems solutions can be found on the Web at www.tewireless.com.”

With IP technology in the hands of Tyco, is your personal data safe?

Given that Tyco Electronics is based in Bermuda, a tax haven known for its lack of regulation, this acquisition could surely spell significant amounts of more trouble for investors, the SEC, and the Commerce Department if Tyco’s assets turn out to be less than stellar.

On a sidenote, it is clear that from a financial perspective, Harris is not performing well for its shareholders. However, it’s interesting to note how long the Harris Corporation’s stock rose until its peak of more than $65 a share on March 30, 2008, long after other companies had already started losing significant amounts of money. But today, the company’s value has been cut in half.

MyTwoCensus urges financial and security experts to share their opinions with us.