WRITTEN ON September 23rd, 2009 BY William Heath AND STORED IN Data nitwittery, Foundation of Trust, Identity, Transformational Government, What do we want?

My letter to ONS

I’ve been asked (by pacifists and others concerned that the 2011
census is managed by a US defence contractor) what are the legal
options for non-participation. I know it’s not a question you’ll
welcome, [however] I believe I fully understand the arguments about why it’s
safe and a good thing to do, and that Lockheed Martin will process the
data in the UK and lawfully etc.

You should not underestimate the concern people now have about the
database state. This is of course not principally the fault of ONS
(it’s ContactPoint, ANPR, health records, ID cards & register, DNA,
CCTV, e-borders etc etc). But the loss of trust in the state’s
intentions and competence with personal data may affect ONS.

So I’d be grateful if you could advise me of any acceptable and legal
basis for non-participation in the 2011 census (eg being out of the
country, dual nationality, homelessness). If you have an exhaustive
list of circumstances, that would be ideal.

Wibbi a new administration used the occasion of the census to offer every British citizen the chance to use a secure independently-issued user-centric online ID?

6 Responses to “Census: the opt-out and the opportunity”

Ideal Gov administrator wrote on September 23rd, 2009 12:35 pm :

Harrah! A reply by return:

Dear Customer,

Thank you for your e-mail.

Due to current levels of enquiries we are unable to reply immediately. We will, however, endeavour to respond to you within 10 working days.

In order for us to process your request, it is important that you include a return postal address, telephone/fax number and company name
if applicable.

Some data is not in a form that can be readily emailed and if you fail to provide appropriate contact information we may be unable to answer
your enquiry.

WTF? I’m not a customer? I’m an incensed activist! And why do they need a fax number?

David Moss wrote on September 23rd, 2009 4:27 pm :


And why do they need a fax number?

No surprise there. The Baroness Scotland affair makes it perfectly clear, what many of us have suspected for a long time, that the government is in the pay of a sinister international cabal of photocopier manufacturers.

Buy a Hewlett-Packard all-in-one printer, photocopier and fax machine, and stop illegal working! It’s Ideal.

Guy Herbert wrote on September 24th, 2009 9:32 am :

One practical option for non-cooperation, pointed out by a civil servant friend of my father on the occasion of the 1971 census, is simply to regard the form as an opportunity for creative writing. In theory one can be prosecuted for failing to provide correct information BUT (1) the information is supposed to be confidential and not compared individually with anything else (even though recent legal changes mean census confidentiality is not what it was); and (2) the rationale for having a census is that the information cannot be obtained otherwise. Prosecution would be impossibly embarrassing to the authorities since it would give proof public that (1) it isn’t in fact confidential and all the assurances given to the public to coax cooperation are worthless, and (2) it is not in fact necessary.

Nowadays the rationale under (2) is in any case complete nonsense, given near-real-time commercial solutions such as MOSAIC are available. WIBBI the gross waste of public money that is the census were scrapped and HMG (just for the sake of argument assuming it does actually need it) were to buy demographic information off the peg that is better and cheaper?

John Lettice wrote on September 24th, 2009 7:30 pm :

Last time around I employed the tactic of getting very drunk, thus corrupting my handwriting and enhancing my exuberance, then filled in the form at lightning speed with information that was at least arguably accurate, but unhelpful (if legible). So, for example, rather than plain old publisher I could be a digital information entrepreneur. I allowed myself no more than a couple of seconds to think about each answer.

In Kentucky, I see they employ more doubtful direct strategies:


Ideal Gov administrator wrote on September 25th, 2009 3:45 pm :

Wow. Yes, indeed. Anti-government sentiment can get out of hand, cant it? Hence the constant struggle to find constructive ways of getting stuff off our chests..

William wrote on February 14th, 2010 5:28 pm :

I did a followup letter to Helen Bray at ONS:

2 Oct 09

Dear Helen Bray

Thank you for your letter. I’m still uneasy about this and have sought advice.

The immediate advice is that that your letter is disingenuous, in that it refers to the duty of confidentiality but fails to mention the extensive loopholes available in the Statistics & Registration Service Act 2007. I was unaware of these. I’m sure you know them well; they are set out in s.39 copied below.

What they appear to say is that personally-identifiable census data can be made available, inter alia:

– if *any* law either expressly allows the disclosure, or even just *permits* it. This is extremely wide: there is no balancing of the privacy rights of the individual against whatever purpose any law may serve, and no requirement that the disclosure is “necessary” to serve an important public interest under such a law.

– if the disclosure is “made for the purposes of a criminal investigation or criminal proceedings (whether or not in the United Kingdom)”. This is separate from the previous exemption, so the police (and, no doubt others – HMRC? DWP? local authorities) dont even need a law to point to in relying on this exemption. Again there is no balancing at all: the disclosure need not be “necessary” for the investigation; it is enough that (the authority claims that) the data are to be used/useable for this purpose.

– if the disclosure is to the intelligence services, “in the interests of national security” (again, as defined by them, and without any “necessity” test).

– if the disclosure is to an “approved researcher” (subject to “criteria” to be drawn up by the board). Who are these people?

These rules do not seem to stand in the way of – indeed, almost seem to invite – the use of the census data for “profiling” purposes, by the police and the intelligence services.

I cannot see how surrendering the amount of sensitive data you will ask for in the census can be compatible with my right under European data protection law and the human rights act to private life, given these wide exemptions to your duty to confidentiality. I shall seek further advice on the matter but would glad of your comments.

Do you think the public are aware of these massive confidentiality loopholes? Will you make them aware, or is the plan simply to keep quiet about them (which seems to be the policy your letter to me follows) until someone makes a fuss?

I am copying this correspondence to the Foundation for Information Policy Research advisory council (to whom I’m grateful for expert advice) to the Open Rights Group, to a solicitor specialised in data protection matters and to the Quaker Civil Liberties Network (who raised the original concern about census work being outsourced to a weapons manufacturer). I propose to write to my MP and to the Information Commissioner when I have your further reaction and have received further advice.

William Heath

Vann South, Vann Lane, Hambledon, Surrey

Confidentiality of personal information
(1) Subject to this section, personal information held by the Board in
relation to the exercise of any of its functions must not be disclosed by—
(a) any member or employee of the Board,
(b) a member of any committee of the Board, or
(c) any other person who has received it directly or indirectly from the
(2) In this Part “personal information” means information which relates to
and identifies a particular person (including a body corporate); but it
does not include information about the internal administrative
arrangements of the Board (whether relating to its members, employees or
other persons).
(3) For the purposes of subsection (2) information identifies a particular
person if the identity of that person—
(a) is specified in the information,
(b) can be deduced from the information, or
(c) can be deduced from the information taken together with any other
published information.
(4) Subsection (1) does not apply to a disclosure which—
(a) is required or permitted by any enactment,
(b) is required by a 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 a 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
(h) is made with the consent of the person to whom it relates, or
(i) is made to an approved researcher.