Bureaucratic assault? Govt launches 2011 census

Ever feel you're being watched? Critics say the census is overly intrusive and expensive.
Ever feel you're being watched? Critics say the census is overly intrusive and expensive.

By Ian Dunt

The government is being accused of launching a "bureaucratic assault" on families' privacy after the most detailed census in British history was launched.

With 32 pages of questions - including details of the identities of people who stay over and the type of central heating families have - privacy campaigners say the census contravenes the government's professed desire to pull out of people's personal lives.

"This census is an astonishing bureaucratic assault on every family's privacy," said Guy Herbert, general secretary of NO2ID.

"The stalker state wants to know who you are, what you do, and now who you do it with - information the government does not need to get statistics for planning. It is private information that the government cannot protect, and should not collect."

He added: "If David Cameron and Nick Clegg want to show that they mean their fine words about rolling back the database state, then they will reverse the stealthy changes that have been made to census confidentiality."

Critics insist that the information can now be shared across 27 EU states and even private researchers.

The census costs £480 million to conduct. Non-compliance risks a £1,000 fine.

While the advertising campaign starts today, the form does not need to be filled in until March 27th.

It will include questions on nationality, ethnicity, faith, marital status, educational qualifications and job titles.

This year it will also include new questions on civil partnerships, second homes and recent migration. There will not be questions on income, sexual orientation or the nature of any disability.

There are also concerns that the more mobile habits of the British population make the census results stale before they are even printed.

But the government relies extensively on the census, which was last conducted in 2001, for details about British habits and lifestyle.

"This census is a monumental waste of time and money. A large number of the questions duplicate data already held by the authorities on databases such as the electoral register, school records, tax returns and GP information," said Daniel Hamilton, campaign director of Big Brother Watch.

"It also makes the entirely hollow but nevertheless bullying threat of fines of £1,000 for non-compliance.

"Back in 2001, three million people refused to comply. Given that there were fewer than 100 prosecutions for not filling the census in, it's clear that non-compliance comes pretty much entirely without repercussions.

"Last time, 390,000 people declared their religion as Jedi. There's no reason to think people will take the census any more seriously this year".

The census launch comes on the same day that David Cameron promised to "release the grip of state control", in an article in the Telegraph on public service provision.


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