Office for National Statistics - Census Data Personal Information disclosures made under the SRSA 2007 s.39 exemptions

This is a combined Response to the two Freedom of Information Acts requests about the Census and the Statistics and Registration Services Act 2007 section 39 exemptions, which remove the absolute legal ban on the disclosure of Personal Information under the Census Act 1920.

The good news is that ONS claim not to have ever betrayed any of our Personal Information from the 2001 Census or from earlier ones.

There is also some information, which might merit more specific FOIA requests about Approved Researchers e.g. to try to discover if any current or previous Approved Researchers have been working for, say, private sector Healthcare or Insurance or Pharmaceutical companies etc.

On reflection, the request should also have asked about any former Approved Researchers as well, either those whose research projects have already been completed and also about any who have had their Approved status revoked (for misconduct or for potential data security breaches).

Just because other Government Departments and Law Enforcement or Intelligence Agencies, do not yet appear to have used the SRSA 2007 s.39 legal exemption statutory gateway to access the raw Census Data Personal Information, it does not mean that, given the advances in Data Warehousing and the reckless rush towards secret Data Sharing which has happened in the last 10 years, they will always neglect to do so.

Some of the Census Data Personal Information is out of date even before it is analysed, but some of it e.g. familial relationship data (potentially abusable for National DNA Database familial DNA data trawling), the racial profiling and the (voluntary) religion questions (the databases that can be used for "positive" discrimination and checking for compliance with Equalities legislation are also useful tools for the persecution of minorities or for genocide), could be abused any time in the future, for the rest of your life and beyond.

Since according to this FOIA response, the SRSA 2007 s.39 exemption powers have never been successfully invoked, they are, to use the Human Rights Act / ECHR Article 8 wording, obviously not "necessary in a democratic society"

The Office of National Statistics spokesmen and the Ministers nominally in political control of them i.e. Francis Maude at the Cabinet Office, should be asked to state whether they agree that the SRSA 2007 s.39 should be repealed, in the Protection of Freedoms Bill or other Coalition government legislation.

The very existence of these legal loophole powers undermines public trust in both the Census and also in the other surveys and questionnaires e.g. the General Household Survey, which the Office of National Statistics also produces and analyses.

Even a public statement that they are listening to public concerns and are planning to review the practical workings of the SRSA 2007 s.39 exemption powers, would be a small victory for common sense, against the current and future spread of the unaccountable, untrustworthy , unnecessarily secretive, faceless bureaucratic Database State.

Office for National Statistics
Nikki Shearman
Legal Services Branch
Segensworth Road
PO15 5RR

Our Ref:FOI01085/[name]
4 March 2011

Dear [name]

Thank you for your emails requesting information about Approved Researchers and section 39 of the Statistics and Registration Service Act. As the requests are of a similar nature this response is intended to answer both.

In the first email you asked:

Please disclose:

1) The Names of individuals and / or the Companies or Organisations who are currently registered as Approved Researchers for the previous Census data i.e. 2001 and before.

2) The Names of individuals and / or the Companies or Organisations who are already registered as Approved Researchers for the 2011 Census data.

3) The Names of individuals and / or the Companies or Organisations who have applied to be, but are not yet currently registered as, Approved Researchers for the previous Census data i.e. 2001 and before.

4) The Names of individuals and / or the Companies or Organisations who have applied to be, but are not yet currently registered as, Approved Researchers for the 2011 Census data.

In response to your first question. There are eight people who are currently registered as Approved Researchers with access to information from previous censuses. Seven out of the eight are academics from the Universities of Bristol, Warwick and Leeds and Imperial College London. The eighth Approved Researcher is from "Kilo Oscar Ltd", a transport planning consultancy supporting Highway Authorities.

Approved Researchers only have access to a very small sample of anonymised census information. This sample contains no names; no addresses; and no date of birth. The only geographic information provided is the local authority in which the individual lives.

In response to your questions 2 - 4. There are no Approved Researcher's who are currently pre-approved for access to 2011 Census data. There are no outstanding applications to become Approved Researchers for either historic Census information or 2011 Census information.

Your second email asked:

1) Please disclose approximately how many Disclosures of Personal Information, as defined in Section 39 subsection (3), from the 2001 Census or from previous Censuses, you have made in each of the Exempt Categories laid down in Section 39 subsection (4) of the Act:

(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 United Kingdom),

(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.

2) What are the Names and Job Titles of the officials who have authorised such Disclosures of Personal Information from the Census.

In response to your question, under sub-sections (a) to (h) there have been no disclosures of personal information from the 2001 or earlier censuses.

Under sub-section (i) there has been a total of 45 Approved Researchers granted access to samples of anonymised Census information from 2001 and earlier, however as noted above no records that directly identify individuals are made available to Approved Researchers.

All applications for "Approved Researcher" status are authorised by the head of ONS legal services exercising the delegated authority of the National Statistician.

You have the right to have this response to your freedom of information request reviewed by an internal review process and, if you remain unhappy with the decision, by the Information Commissioner. If you would like to have a review please write to Frank Nolan, UK Statistics Authority, Segenworth Road, Titchfield, Hampshire, PO15 5RR

Yours Sincerely,

Nikki Shearman,
Office for National Statistics, UK Statistics Authority.

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