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Census: Data Protection

Volume 472: debated on Tuesday 26 February 2008

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make it his policy to ensure that all census data collected by private contractors will remain confidential. (188175)

The information requested falls within the responsibility of the National Statistician, who has been asked to reply.

Letter from Karen Dunnell, dated 26 February 2008:

As National Statistician and Registrar General for England and Wales I have been asked to reply to your recent question asking if the Office for National Statistics will ensure that all census data collected by private contractors will remain confidential. (188175)

The data collected in the Census is owned by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Crown. ONS has a well-established reputation of maintaining Census confidentiality which it intends to uphold. Safeguarding data confidentiality and security has carried the highest priority in defining all the legal and contractual arrangements for the 2011 Census.

Confidentiality is an overriding concern, and ONS has a stringent security policy which includes specific measures to safeguard the confidentiality of personal data provided by respondents to Census Tests and to a Census. These measures cover the physical, IT, communications and internet security requirements, and comply with all relevant Government policies and standards. As for previous censuses independent security reviews will be carried out at key stages of the Census operation.

All staff working with, or having access to, Census data, including any contracted service provider, will sign a confidentiality declaration to confirm their understanding and commitment to their legal confidentiality undertakings.

Currently, legal protection is afforded by the Census Act 1920 as amended by the Census (Confidentiality) Act 1991 which makes it a criminal offence for any person to disclose personal information from the Census without lawful authority. Census information is also generally protected in UK law by the provisions of the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act.

From April 2008 when the power to conduct a Census and other statistical functions of my post as Registrar General for England and Wales are transferred to the newly formed Statistics Board, data confidentiality will be protected by the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 (SRSA) which will replace the confidentiality provisions of the Census Act.

Any breach of the SRSA confidentiality provisions would be a criminal offence, subject to possible imprisonment and fines.