I’ve been trying to find out about the gathering of data for the 2009 rehearsal for the 2011 census, and how much of it is covered by the Data Protection Act. It’s a little beyond my knowledge, and try as I might I can’t condense my query into 140 characters, so I thought I’d post my thoughts here on the off chance that anyone reading knows something about this.
The London borough I live in is one of the areas selected to take part in the rehearsal for the 2011 census. As such, we received through the door on the 15th October a census rehearsal form, with instructions to complete and return it either on or soon after the 15th. Between one thing and another we didn’t actually get it done until Monday 19th October, and I posted it back the following day.
Last Friday (23 Oct) my partner happened to be at home during the day, and had a visit from two representatives of the Office for National Statistics, wanting to know why we hadn’t returned the form yet. He explained to them that we had done so at the start of the week, and pointed out that there had been ongoing Royal Mail strikes in the area for the last couple of months. They grudgingly accepted this explanation and left.
My question is this: should they actually have had access to data identifying who had returned their forms so far and who hadn’t? We had actually had a note through the post from them earlier last week (Wednesday 21st, I think): a generic, bulk-mailed reminder saying something along the lines of “If you haven’t yet filled out your census form, there’s still time” and containing instructions on what to do if we had lost the form. This seemed totally reasonable to me, and I didn’t really expect to hear anything else from them. I was taken aback that they were actually (presumably) paying people to go out and knock on individual doors. I don’t really know an awful lot about data protection, and all I could find on the ONS website was this commitment to confidentiality, so I was hoping that someone who knows what they’re talking about could confirm whether or not using the data collected to target individual homes constituted a breach of that confidentiality. Any advice gratefully received – am I worrying over nothing?