Slovakia: The People Vs. the Census

The Slovak government has been trying to avoid situations when one state office asks citizens for information already available to another state office.

Despite these efforts, however, the Statistical Office of the Slovak Republic [sk] has recently failed to follow Switzerland's 2010 population census example of using “data in existing population registers” and ended up asking as many questions as possible again in Slovakia's 2011 Population and Housing Census [sk] that was held on May 21, 2011.

Bloggers’ response

This, as well as people's unwillingness to fill out complex forms and the reportedly high cost of the census (more than 5 euro per citizen), has inspired various bloggers to share ways of entering misleading information on their census forms.

Some blogs and articles warned [sk] against giving out information that is too personal, because “organizations with even bigger budgets ended up at Wikileaks,” and even “a combination of [complete] date of birth, sex and place of residence” [sk] could be enough for identification.

The situation became more serious when, together with paper forms, people also received temporary “personal IDs,” designed by the Statistical Office to avoid counting the same people twice – on paper and online. However, it was revealed that lists of citizens and their IDs existed and were available to census takers.

Some people decided to exchange their IDs with others to avoid easy identification, but the Bureau described it as illegal [sk] and insisted that the census data would remain anonymous [sk].

An anonymous blogger whose contact information is available to SME newspaper wrote [sk]:

I work as a census taker now… During the training we took before the census, our city mayor mentioned that they would search for tax evaders using census results…

In a comment to another SME article [sk], user prášil wrote:

Yesterday, a census taker brought forms without identification codes. To the question of where they were she replied that they were at the village office and once they've collected all the forms, they'd would paste them there.

Below is a popular census-related meme, which appears on many sites and blogs, including this one [sk]:

Census How-To:
1. in the morning go to [the supermarket]
2. at the vegetable department print the code for, say, banana (I printed tomato)
3. stick that code on the census form
4. give the form to the census taker

This procedure will guarantee your anonymity.

Maybe they will wonder at the Statistical Office about why so many tomatoes and bananas live in Slovakia, but we also wonder why so many pumpkins are managing this country.

One of the biggest mistakes of the census law is that it does not contain sanctions. So some people decided they would exchange IDs anyway, some did not attach their IDs to paper forms (thus creating an extra piece of work for census takers, who had to supply this information manually [sk]), some refused to fill out every field required or returned empty forms [sk].

And some did not allow census takers to enter their houses at all. That's why in the capital city alone more than 100 census takers withdrew [sk].

Sesquideus wrote [sk] at a SME blog:

I wrote what was clearly findable. The rest is total nonsense but trustworthy and hardly verifiable independently. To make them happy.

maro_ba wrote [sk]:

They did not come to me. And even if they had, I would not have kicked them out … but I would have said, Thank you, I'm not interested.


Filling out five forms took me about five minutes…

martin33_again (in reply):

Kicking out census takers took me about one minute…


For such a big show, there are just a few trivial questions.

zvejkal (in reply):

[…] Questions about nothing and 30 million gone.
When someone's mother dies at the hospital … because of the missing 2,000 euros, then maybe someone will understand.


Some people, feeling good about having kept their personal information private, will then go and put it on their Facebook profiles, and they will not forget to add some pictures of family or from the holidays there, along with some info on where they are going for the next holidays…

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