census alert

Response to our petition (and our response)

Our petition on the Downing Street website closed on 15 June 2008, with 5,590 signatures.

On the closing date, the petition was 23rd in the list of most-signed petitions, with no decision havng yet been made on which contractor would be selected to run the 2011 Census, despite this being scheduled originally for January 2008.

Government response

Signatories received the following response from the government on 10 July 2008:

"The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is responsible for conducting the census in England and Wales and owns all of the data collected. ONS is seeking the support of external suppliers because the 10-year cycle for the census, the short processing timetable and extensive data systems required mean that outsourcing offers efficiencies and value for money. Censuses in Scotland and Northern Ireland are devolved matters.

ONS is nearing the end of a procurement exercise for census processing and two companies, Lockheed Martin UK and T-Systems remain in contention for award of the printing, data capture and processing contract to support the 2011 Census. Under either proposal all processing will take place in the UK and strict controls will be in place to protect confidentiality.

The confidentiality of personal census information is a top priority and personal census data will not be shared with any other state or nation. The UK Statistics and Registration Services Act makes disclosure of such personal data a criminal offence. All staff working with census data, including all subcontractor staff, sign a confidentiality declaration to confirm their understanding of and obligations to data confidentiality and undertaking to comply with legislation.

ONS is carrying out a fully compliant procurement in accordance with the requirements of European law and the European Union Procurement Directives, which have been incorporated into English law. The foundations of the rules are fairness and transparency. Any organisation with the correct technical capability, financial stability and experience therefore has the opportunity to compete openly for Government business throughout the European Union without discrimination. Lockheed Martin has significant experience of managing contracts for censuses in the UK and internationally. It held the contract for data capture and processing for the 2001 UK census, the 2010 US census, and the 2006 Canadian census."

Our response

At Census Alert, we are not satisfied with this response to our petition, which does not address the issue of public concern at Lockheed Martin being involved.

Simply quoting regulations like European procurement rules doesn't tackle the central problem here -  that UK citizens will be asked to hand many of their personal details over to a process in which a company with close links to the US government will be intimately involved.

It has been seven years since the last Census and technology has moved on, with billions of pieces of data now able to be carried away on a storage device no bigger than a pen. Recent events, where government departments have lost confidential information relating to millions of NHS patients and benefit recipients show that data security is not something the government is expert in, so its assurances ring very hollow indeed.

In this atmosphere, laws and confidentiality agreements are not going to do anything to reduce the risk of our details being given to the US government. Faced with the choice between breaking UK privacy laws and the US Patriot Act, which government would Lockheed choose to ignore? It would be better to ensure the Census data is not allowed anywhere near Lockheed Martin by removing them from the procurement process altogether.

We are not reassured by this response, and are still concerned that, until Lockheed Martin is taken off the job, the next Census will not be an accurate reflection of the people of the UK, with many citizens failing to comply.

As no decision has yet been made, we will continue to campaign for Lockheed Martin to be removed from contention to run the next UK Census.

Find out how you can help the campaign here.