By Rosa Mendoza, HTTP Executive Director
The census might not come to mind immediately when thinking about the many important topics that the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP) follows and advocates for on behalf of the Latino community. The Director of the US Census Bureau said in an interview with an NPR affiliate that more than half of the census in 2020 could be done online. Collecting census information online sounds like a very convenient way to do it at face value and anything to reduce government spending, where possible, is ideal, however there is another aspect to consider. This topic is of interest to HTTP because in order for Latinos to report census information online they need access to reliable Internet and the proficiency with which to successfully submit their information.
There is a plethora of resources that make broadband access not a luxury but a necessity. Some examples would be students having access to online content for homework, parents having access to medical services, adults accessing websites for job-related reasons and applying online, and the list goes on. But there are other, lesser discussed, but significantly important, aspects that must be considered because so much of what we do in our society is online. One of those is the census. How will an entire generation of Latinos, of all ages but specifically the elderly, access the census online? Many not only do not have the access they need but also are lacking the training and proficiency needed to navigate the web successfully.
In addition to access and proficiency another aspect that will potentially dissuade people, and specifically Latinos, is the lack of security of their personally identifiable information (PII). The United States government, specifically the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), had one of the most egregious and widely talked about breaches that compromised U.S. government and contractor personnel PII. Latinos are particularly vulnerable to phishing and other online scams and the fear of their PII being vulnerable online could also be a challenge to full participation.
The possibility of a lack of participation in the census due to a lack of access to broadband, and the other factors discussed, is dangerous. Census data drives investment, educational resources, infrastructure and at a basic level is the system of record for our existence. Without the complete documentation of the true makeup of the citizens of our nation, we run the risk of genocide by omission.
A strategic approach that aims to ensure full participation in the census is key. The communication strategy must be comprehensive to reach citizens in their primary language, a specific concern for the Latino community. Assuming that for this census there is both online and paper options for submission, what will happen in the future as more and more of our activities are online. Will there come a day when the census will be completely online? It is vitally important for the Latino community that we have a chance to document our numbers and our demographic information for the census and therefore as our society moves more and more to online applications and submission of information we must not leave behind those on the wrong side of the digital divide.