Today was Census Day 2011. Millions of Scots were expected to fill in questionnaires as part of the 2011 census. This is an event every ten years where the UK Government acts all feudal with British subjects and others. Allegedly, the survey is a key instrument for assessing the needs of local communities. As part of the process, you are asked to provide the state with answers to questions on your age, gender and health. This will help both the UK and Scottish Government to plan services like housing, hospitals and schools.
That all sounds very reasonable. The three bodies conducting the survey – the Office for National Statistics, the General Register Office for Scotland in Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency – even promise to keep your personal data confidential for 100 years. However, if you fail to complete the questionnaire, you could face a fine of up to £1,000. Why would you though? Especially since this will help Government and various bodies plan how to develop and deliver services.
If I don’t complete it, how will they know? If I choose not to tell the Scottish Government where I live, what type of property it is, who employs me or what medical services I use, how will they chase me down? Will they employ a private investigator to hunt me down and serve me with the fine? Can I expect Inspector John Rebus to employ his detective skills before chapping at my door to reprimand me? No, they can look up the electoral roll, the Council Tax database, the tax records, speak to the DVLA or check in with the Common Services Agency to ferret out all this info. So, if all this info is already held by the state, why are we spending £482m gathering it again. For the record that is £482,000,000 – more than double what was spent for the 2001 census. You can tell the country is in the grip of a recession and needs to cut public spending by 25%.
So, who earns this lovely cash contract? Military contractors. From the United States of America. In Scotland, the company is CACI, a wholly-owned subsidiary of US contractor CACI International. They’re the nice folk who provided interrogators at Abu Ghraib prison at the height of the prisoner abuse scandal. In the rest of the UK Lockheed Martin UK – the British arm of US-based aerospace, defence, security, and technology company Lockheed Martin – won the contract. Since these companies are subject to the Patriot Act, US authorities can gain access to your personal information and are not bound by any confidentiality agreements. While I doubt they care about where I live or what I do, I don’t see why they should have access to that information.
The 2011 United Kingdom Census – a great way to help our economy and look after your civil rights while collecting duplicate data.