Lockheed Martin and the census: to boycott or not to boycott?

Many were appalled when Lockheed Martin, the notorious US arms manufacturer, was awarded the £150m contract to run the census on behalf of the Office for National Statistics.  We have already written a blog about the security of census data, and hopefully assuaged any worries you had on the that front.  However, there are further problems to address: problems to do with the ethical nature of Lockheed Martin, which have persuaded a good many people to boycott the census.  Here, we want to be honest about this matter, and tell you why we think it is still a good idea to fill in your census.

The Lockheed Martin F35 Bomber

First, let’s be clear on the nature of Lockheed Martin’s work, and the moral accusations leveled at them.  Most controversially, they provided private contract interrogators to the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.  They are responsible for Trident missiles for both the US and the UK nuclear weapons systems, and are one of three contractors which run the nuclear weapons factory at Aldermaston.  80% of their work is done for the US defence department: they assist more than two dozen American government agencies and are involved in surveillance and data processing for the CIA and FBI.  This has lead to some conflicts of interest: as Lockheed’s former vice-president Bruce Jackson chaired the Coalition for the Liberation of Iraq, a bipartisan group formed to promote Bush’s plan for war in Iraq.  Bruce Jackson was also involved in corralling support for the war from Eastern European countries, going so far as helping to write their letter of endorsement for military intervention.  Not surprisingly, Lockheed also has business relations with these countries. In 2003 Poland shelled out $3.5 billion for 48 F-16 fighter planes, which it was able to buy with a $3.8 billion loan from the US. (See the Census Alert website for more details).

Whatever your views on some of these issues, it’s clear that Lockheed Martin are not exactly pacifists, are sometimes close to some very obvious violations of human rights, and have been very involved in the political preparations for war despite a clear conflict of interests.  But they presented a good case to ONS, and gained the contract for the census.  The question now is what we, as active, moral, non-war-loving beings, should do about it.  To reiterate: the problem isn’t that our data isn’t safe: ONS have ensured that it is.  The question is whether it is a good idea to boycott the census because we object to oft immoral nature of Lockheed Martin’s other work.

We at the Census Campaign do not think it is a good idea to boycott the census at all: here we explain why.  By boycotting, the idea is that you will express your discontent with ONS’s decision.  However, in doing so, you will be directly affecting the funding that comes into your local services.  The results from the census are, after all, used to justify resource allocations at a local level: one London borough estimates that over the next ten years, they will lose £22,000 per person who does not complete the Census.  That is money lost in schools and hospitals amongst other much in need organisations.

In boycotting, you will also be passing up a vital opportunity to give the government an accurate picture of the UK.  This would be particularly bad news for our campaign; for we want the government to recognise how many of us are not religious and tackle state enshrined religious privilege accordingly.

We agree with this online blogger, who points out that a boycott will have a minimal effect on Lockheed Martin as they will get paid for their role in the census regardless of how many people fill it in. However, a boycott is a highly effective way of cutting local services in your area, and ensuring that you are not accounted for in national policies.

These are extremely high costs to make a statement: especially when you can make that statement in other, less harmful, ways.  Here are some ideas from the afore mentioned blogger: ‘write to your MP, donate the money which you’ve saved by not getting fined to a campaigning group, meet with others and develop new and creative campaigns’.  You can also keep eye on the government, and protest any new contracts it threatens to develop with arms manufacturors.

Whatever approach you choose, fill in your census for the reasons outlined above: and encourage others to do so too.

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10 Responses to Lockheed Martin and the census: to boycott or not to boycott?

  1. Philip says:

    I guess I have only one thing to add to this. regardless of the fact that Lockheed will be paid whether we comply or not, why are we permitting ourselves to be blackmailed into this fiction that everyone who boycotts will cost 22,000 pounds. I am sorry people. But I never believed that the money would be there in the first place. This is utter manipulation. The less information these horrendous people have, the safer we will all be.

  2. haley says:

    I have a right to remain silent, and right to privacy , no comment

    • Rob says:

      Everything you write will remain confidential for 100 years – so you’ve got your privacy.

      But I’m curious about why you say you have a right to remain silent. Do you not otherwise take part in society in any other ways? I think it’s the responsibility of the state to know who lives where, and as citizens it’s our responsibility to provide accurate information to that end. Why should you receive any services from the state if you’re not prepared to stand up and be counted?

  3. Peter Ghali says:

    I agree with Mike, this website is a sham, a stool pigeon, a decoy, a wrong un. Total Bullshit, I wouldn’t mind betting that it’s Lockheed themselves.

  4. Diane says:

    Staple your letter of protest to the inside page of the census, that should mess up the scanning process.

  5. Thomas says:

    These scum ‘CACI’ were employed by the degenerate Bush and his handlers at Abu Ghraib, where there are reports that they raped children — lovely people!

  6. Angela says:

    I completely agree with Lizzie Rogers that boycotting the census does not make sense; in fact it would do more harm than good. The problem is that such debates always get so simplified. Boycotting or not boycotting is a false choice: there are other options. Lockheed Martin, not the census as such, is the problem, so we should focus on that. They make their money on the census contract on the basis of their capability of computer scanning the census returns at very high speed. All the instructions on the form on how to fill it in are there to make computer scanning fast and cheap. If it works to plan, not a lot of additional manual keying in will be necessary when processing the forms. That is where their profit comes from. If you make a return, but make computer scanning difficult or impossible, Lockheed Martin will, hopefully make less profit.

    The form has 3 types of barcode:
    1) The big barcode on the front page, which is meant to show through the window envelope. It is mean to be scanned by the Royal Mail, and registers “form received” This will be passed on to the census collectors teams. If, for whatever reason, that bar code cannot be read by the Royal Mail, the envelope will be passed on unopened to Lockheed Martin’s processing centre, which can open envelopes under proper data protection conditions. They will then have to register the form as received (one way or another) and pass that info on to ther census collectors teams.
    2) The bold little barcodes on every page of the form are page numbercodes for the computer to scan. They are the same on all forms.
    3) The fainter, “wavy” barcode on one side only of every page, is that particular form’s unique “identity” bar code. It is the same on every page, but different on every form.

    On arrival at Lockheed Martin’s census processing centre, the forms are visually inspected to see if they can be scanned at all (if not, the info will have to be keyed in by hand), the spines are trimmed off and the ensuing loose pages go into the computer scanners (a bit like high-volume office photocopiers). Apparenty at a rate of about 15000 pages per hour.
    The combination of barcodes 2) and 3) enables the computer to know which form and which page of that form it is scanning at any time (even if the pages are completely randomly mixed up).
    If, for whatever reason, the computer can’t read the barcodes, it can’t scan the answers, for there would be nowhere for the information to go to. The alternative of manually keying in the answers is vastly more expensive.

    When scanning does work, the software to read the ticked boxes and written answers in the boxes, only works reliably if people follow the instructions quite closely.
    Untidy corrections in box ticking, with arrows etc, joined-up or upside down writing, writing outside the boxes, etc, can’t be read by the sofware. Humans will need to process such entries by hand. In “category answers” the software looks for words it recognises against a pre-programmed dictionary. Unusual wors or unsusual phrases won’t be recognised and require (expensive) human operators who have to think about such answers and decide what they mean. This is particulary expensive.

    More detailed information on how it all works on the following links:


    (this ONS link contains downloadable newsletters called “census talk”. Look at nos 4, 5 and “special issue” for all the relevant info)




    By the way, the census forms inexplicably omited to give the postal address of Jil Matheson in case you have queries. It is:

    Jil Matheson
    National Statistician
    Office for National Statistics
    Government Buildings
    Cardiff Road
    South Wales NP10 8XG

  7. futureplanningcommittee says:

    they already virtually run the post office, so might as well let them do the census…

  8. Don't watch the T.V. says:

    I wonder how long it will be before these ‘global security’ butchers start building Gulags for me to vanish into?

  9. Mike says:

    Your reasons are complete BS. It seems you have links to the government.