In a letter (scroll down) to the Independent on February 25, Glen Watson, the director of the UK Census, had the following to say
First, it is not true that EU legislation allows for census information to be shared with EU member states. No personal census information has been or will be provided to EU member states or EU institutions; only statistical tables and counts will be provided.
Second, it is not true that raw census data may be acquired by the police, intelligence agencies, immigration authorities etc under the Statistics and Registration Services Act. The UK Statistics Authority and the Office for National Statistics will never volunteer personal information for any non-statistical purpose.
It is particularly lovely we were assured of that last point. However, a literal reading of Section 39 of The Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 states that for data it holds, the ONS is not permitted to disclose any personal information (ie on specific individuals) to anyone.
Never ever, that is, except if such a disclosure:
(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 UK),
(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.
It is great to have such protections, isn’t it?
There was considerable concern at the time of the census that some or all of these exceptions might apply to census data, which is why Mr Watson felt the need to make such a disclaimer.
If he was going to make such a strong claim, one would hope he was sure of it. One would expect that he or his organisation would have asked for legal advice on the matter perhaps? One wouldn’t want to mislead the public any more than one would want to disclose their data to the EU Agriculture Directorate. The readers of the Independent should not be misled, but should be told the truth, always.
Which is why the results of a recent Freedom of Information request to the ONS are quite interesting. Specifically:
The nearest that ONS came to seeking legal advice or formally discussing this matter with Treasury solicitors was while we were drafting the confidentiality undertakings that were incorporated into the Census Regulations. However there was no formal advice sought or specific discussion held about how Section 39 would cover the census, all of these meetings were un-minuted,
Yes, this is just as bad as it sounds. I for one am glad I did not fill in the form.