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Misunderstanding the Census

Pinkolady | 08.03.2011 18:40 | 2011 Census Resistance

Lockheed Martin might make a tidy profit out of running the census (why else would they have bid for the contract?) but no branch of the US government is going to get the personal details of British citizens.

There seems to be some paranoia about Lockheed Martin/ the American government/ the FBI getting access to people's personal details if they fill in and send back their census forms. This is not in fact an issue and it is based on a misunderstanding of how the census operates.

None of the data collected for the census can leave the UK. The government department that owns the census data and produces statistics from it, the Office of National Statistics, is well aware that its credibility would be shattered if there was any leak or loss of people's personal data. It has therefore made sure that there is almost no chance of this happening.

Nobody at Lockheed Martin will get access to any personal data. No organisation except the Office of National Statistics will get access to it. Once the data have been studied to produce statistics, the census forms will be microfilmed and the microfilm archived for 100 years. Then the original forms will be destroyed, as will all computer software used to collect information. The only other people who might get to see people's personal details are those employed to collect forms house to house, and to help disabled people to fill in their forms, and those working at the helpline call centre. All these employees have been security vetted and have had to sign a confidentiality agreement. They can be prosecuted if they leak information or even breach any of the security protocols. The call centre has a frightening level of security. One man who took his packet of cigarettes into the secure area with him was not allowed to take them out again until a security person had examined every cigarette and the cigarette packet. The reason for that was, it is possible to write down somebody's personal information on a cardboard packet.

Lockheed Martin has contracted out the physical task of collecting the census information to a group of 'partner organisations' which are all based in Britain. These include the Royal Mail, which has to sort and deliver census forms separately from the rest of the mail. It also includes an obscure charity called BSS which makes its money by arranging call centre services for various other organisations. Its call centre employees work for the same insultingly low pay and in the same oppressive conditions as call centre workers everywhere. How an organisation that employs the modern equivalent of sweatshop labour gets charitable status is something I don't know.

There are probably good reasons not to return your census form, but the possibility of the FBI getting hold of your personal information is not one of them.

The fact that a British government department is paying British taxpayers' money to a foreign arms dealer could be a good reason. Refuseniks should be aware however that refusing outright and up front to fill in the census form is a criminal offence; you need to know you are taking that risk. How well the law is enforced is another question. I am reliably informed that they only prosecuted 63 refuseniks from the last census.

Why am I posting this? I think if people are going to protest about something, they should have accurate information about what the issues are first.

How do I know all this? Well, I briefly worked at the census call centre. They fired me after one week. I have never been given the reason, but I doubt it was to do with my political leanings. It could have been that I was too obviously sceptical of the management's insistence that I was working on an "exciting project". It could have been that I did not show the correct level of enthusiasm for the compulsory group activities that were intended to 'Build The Team'. I have worked in teams before, many times, and I don't see how it improves the team spirit to tie two people together with string and ask the rest of the team to work out how to free them without untying any of the knots. That's just one example of the compulsory group activities. The whole thing felt like "Brave New World" but without the group sex. Now, that would have made the project 'exciting'!