Census forms are dropping through letterboxes in Scotland. Some vital information is missing from them. They don't explain that key work for the census has been contracted to CACI UK, a wholly-owned British subsidiary of a US-based company that was involved in human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq.
The law requires every household to complete and return its census form (this can be done online). But enforcement of the law will be almost impossible.
When news of the contract award broke in July 2008 there were widespread calls for a change of mind. But the General Register Office of Scotland and the Scottish Government blocked every attempt to get the contract cancelled.
CACI International is a US-based defence contractor. From August 2003 until the early autumn of 2005 it was contracted to provide "interrogation services" for the US Army at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. While CACI staff were employed as interrogators at Abu Ghraib, prisoners were humiliated and tortured there by US military police. Photographs of the abuse shocked the world and led to the conviction of a number of low-ranking US soldiers by courts martial.
CACI International is now trying to block lawsuits brought against it in the US by former Abu Ghraib prisoners by claiming "official immunity." The US Supreme Court is currently considering whether to allow one of the lawsuits (involving over 250 Iraqi plaintiffs) to go ahead. Another case (involving 4 Iraqi plaintiffs) is currently before the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, in Richmond, Virginia. CACI International has not so far contested the substance of the allegations against it in court.
The company denies any wrongdoing. But is does not dispute its involvement with Abu Ghraib. Prisoners at Abu Ghraib were routinely held in circumstances that violate international human rights norms.
All the money that CACI UK makes belongs to CACI International. CACI International doesn't deserve Scottish taxpayers' money. And it certainly shouldn't be trusted with our personal data. Any data that comes into its hands would be available to the US Government under the Patriot Act. The Scottish Government acknowledges the problem and says that it has set up a contract structure that will prevent that happening. But intelligence work for the US Government is a mainstay of CACI International's business. It's difficult to believe that the safeguards put in place by the Scottish Government can really guarantee that personal data won't cross the Atlantic.
What can we do?
Census Day is on Sunday 27 March. Census staff will be collecting forms for at least a month after that.
The Scottish Government says "it would be impossible to carry out a census without the willing co-operation of the public." So don't give the census your willing co-operation. There is no legal requirement on people to co-operate with census staff. Most of them are temporary staff who know nothing of the links between the census and Abu Ghraib. So you might want to give them a copy of the Ethical Census flyer (download from http://bit.ly/cenflyer ). But don't give them any information that could help them carry out the census.
Don't be in a hurry to return your census form. And don't fill it in online.
If you don't eventually return your census form you could be prosecuted and, if convicted, you could be fined a maximum of £1000. In the last census (in 2001), over 200,000 people went missing. Just 3 people were convicted for refusing to return their census forms. One of them was fined £200. The other two were fined £50.
Why is it so hard to obtain convictions?
After the 2001 census the Register Office said:
"For refusals' to be successfully prosecuted, a complicated and time-consuming process had to be undertaken by field managers to ensure that the necessary documentary evidence was in place. This involves warning letters pointing out the legal obligation, extra visits, and the taking, witnessing and signing of an interview 'under caution' in which the refusal is admitted by the person responsible for completing the form. Potential refusals are allowed legal representation at this interview which can complicate the process further." (my emphasis).
So if you are interviewed under caution, you should exercise your right to silence, regardless of whether you filled in your census form or not. That's all part of the perfectly legal process of withholding "willing co-operation." Without an admission, a "successful" prosecution would be extremely difficult.
Census data isn’t essential for policy-making. It's just one of a range of statistical tools. Census data has often in the past been used to justify fewer services. Scotland's census doesn't deserve to succeed. Let's make it a monument to the struggle to end corporate and state impunity over human rights violations.
Far too few people know about Scotland's census scandal. So please print off a few copies of the flyer, ask your friends to visit the website, and post a link on any blogs or websites you have access to.
Don't let then get away with it!