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“Genius is nothing but a greater aptitude for patience.”- Benjamin Franklin

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The Wasp
Mr Raccoon

2011 Census – who gets your information?

I noticed a BBC news item about the hiring of 43000 temporary census workers recently and decided to go and have a look at the ONS website to see what they had to say about data confidentiality (for no other reason than I am a nosey bugger and object to Government approved snooping).

On their Frequently Asked Questions page they have the following (emphasis mine) :

What will happen to my information?

Your answers will be turned into statistics about the community and groups within it. Personal census information is kept confidential for 100 years and is not shared with anyone else, including any other government bodies or departments.

Nothing wrong with that statement I suppose.

Or so I thought until I looked at the Privacy Statement where people tend to hide the interesting items because no one but lawyers and nosey buggers read them (again, emphasis mine) :

Who will see your information?

Your information is used only by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). It is not shared with any other government departments, but may be made available to a small number of accredited researchers. Access to your information is strictly controlled to ensure confidentiality.

Now, I think you will agree that that is somewhat different from the first statement.

If the latter was under the FAQ section there would be a hell of a lot of questions being asked of the ONS.

Anyway, Wasp has sent an FOI their way to see exactly who these “accredited researchers” are and exactly what they get hold of.

To be continued …

Update … A lot more here it seems :

The source of her concern is a clause in the 2007 Statistics and Registration Act that might, in her words,  “effectively oblige the ONS under certain circumstances to hand over individual data for non-statistical purposes to the police or security services.”

Clause 39, Confidentiality of Personal Information, is where the issue lies. The clause says that personal information must not be disclosed by ONS (referred to in the act as “the board”) or its employees and that breaches can carry a jail term of up to two years.

But the clause then goes on to say that this does not apply to a disclosure which:

  • (a) is required or permitted by any enactment
  • (b) is required by Community obligation
  • (c) is necessary for the purpose of enabling or assisting the board to exercise any of its functions
  • (d) has already lawfully been made available to the public
  • (e) is made in pursuance of an order of the court
  • (f) is made for the purposes of a criminal investigation or criminal proceedings (whether or not in the United Kingdom)
  • (g) is made in the interests of national security, to an Intelligence Service
  • (h) is made with the consent of the person to whom it relates or
  • (i) is made to an approved researcher.

The 2011 Census will be more detailed than every before, with a form 32 pages long. Given that the permitted disclosure to the police refers to criminal investigations whether in the UK or not, many people (and not only criminals) may be reluctant to answer all of them. Among those of a suspicious nature, the fact that the Census’ main contractor is a US company, Lockheed Martin, will hardly calm nerves.

Much more lurking below the surface than the simple FAQ answer has.

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