We received the following reply from the ONS to the Conditional Acceptance:
Our reply to their response follows:
Head of census legislation
Hants PO15 5RR
31st March 2011
Dear Mr White,
Thank you very much for your letter dated 30th March 2011 the contents of which have been noted, some of which raise additional points as shown below.
Of particular note is the reminder of the supposed legal responsibility and the penalties applicable for failing to respond to the census – I would point out that the legal responsibility has been met as you have indeed received a response albeit not the one you were expecting.
You also state that the “offence would be noted on your criminal record” – you have presupposed therefore that I have a criminal record which is quite surprising.
You say that you have provided answers to the main points raised by the “whole group of letter-writers” and I am unclear as to why you feel it is appropriate to lump my concerns in with the concerns of others or why you feel it is appropriate to respond to my concerns in this manner. It is clear however that I am not the only person who shares some major concerns over the collection, handling and storage of private information requested by the ONS.
I will also take this opportunity to highlight an example of institutional discrimination that permeates your letter and which is important that any government or official be aware of. As someone who works closely with disabled, elderly and disadvantaged people in the community, your propensity to direct one to website based information is discriminatory as not everyone has the means to fund a connection to the internet or the skills required to access information as you suggest.
While you are quick to direct me to “census laws” you are failing yourself to take into account “discrimination laws” and I suggest that you need to revise your script accordingly.
You say that “statements of truth are only relevant in a court of law” which is, of course, nonsense. The ONS are equally liable for prosecution in the event that they are found to have lied in their responses to me and that my request for information, while you may consider it onerous, is perfectly reasonable should I find it necessary to take legal action against the ONS or the government at some future date should it be shown that they have failed in some way in the exercise of their duties to me.
Your suggestion that the ONS operates under the “civil service code of integrity, impartiality, objectivity and honesty” gives me assurances that the information provided is accurate is fine on the face of it but you’ll understand if I reject your suggestion as my personal experiences in this regard are in complete opposition to your statement and that I have experienced many situations where the civil service have not operated under a code of integrity, have not been impartial, objective or honest.
This is not to say of course that I yet have reason to believe this of the ONS but it is prudent to voice my opinions on the matter in light of my extensive experience in dealing with executive offices such as yours.
You say that the questions included in the 2011 Census have been approved by Parliament after extensive public consultation, testing and public acceptability evaluation but this of course works on the assumption that the methods and approval of Parliament are honourable and generally accepted and that decisions made in Parliament are lawful (as opposed to legal) which often they are not.
Given the propensity for members of Parliament to make decisions based, not on the needs of their constituents or the needs of the people of this country, but on what has often been described as “gravy train” politics you can understand that many people are reluctant to accept carte blanche any directives and decisions that may have the approval of Parliament.
There are many clear examples in recent months of MPs doing what is best for their particular brand of political bias rather than what is good for the country as a whole and these examples have served to undermine any trust in MPs that their constituents may once have held – this leads in turn, to suspicion and distrust for any policies which may, on the face of it, appear legitimate but which can easily be used by government officials for their own illicit purposes.
On the question of the ONS commitment to confidentiality you say that an “independent review” has been carried out and you direct me to a file on the ONS website entitled “_images_2011censuiiar_tcm77-37965” containing the document entitled “2011 Census Security: Report of the Independent Review Team”.
This 42 page document was created by the team comprising John Dowall, Harvey Mattinson and Peter Fagan all of whom while having impressive credentials have gained those credentials as part of government departments which implies that they may not be as “independent” as you suggest.
For example, if you were to confirm that the census security data is dependent in some way upon the AuthenWare security software developed by Infosec Consultants Ltd, one might ask the question of Mr Mattinson’s impartiality in an independent review considering he spent 5 years as head of this company while at GCHQ. It is also shown that Infosec have strong ties to the FBI in the United States which in itself may raise eyebrows and cause concern.
The fact is that many of those involved with the capture, handling, manipulation and storage of census data have a track record of violating human rights and nothing you have provided to me suggests that the concerns of the nation have been addressed around these violations. In fact, reports produced by the review team suggest that situations exist in which “it is impracticable entirely to remove the risk of disclosure”.
I certainly do not distrust the motives of the ONS but I seriously question their ability to deliver on their promises over time and in view of the constant mishandling of public data by government officials which has led to the concerns raised in my original letter.
In failing to provide names and profiles of those companies involved with handling the census data (in any capacity whatsoever) you have not given me the chance to allay any fears or concerns I have relating to who those companies might be and what their track record for success might be. Some companies are noted such as Steria who are apparently resourcing the personnel to manage the data capture systems – this company too has been the subject of claims in the court with judgments being made against them.
Of note is that all contractors have a long standing relationship with the government as suppliers and it has been suggested time and again that there are many unscrupulous companies who will do anything to hold on to lucrative government contracts and that many fail consistently to deliver on those contracts yet never suffer any penalties as a result.
Statutory instruments in the UK such as the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Anti-Terror, Crime & Security Act 2001(ATCS) as well as implementation of legislation in the United States such as the Patriot Act together with the government’s current consideration of withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights all show quite clearly that should Parliament decide to the contrary that the current legislation protecting our data could be swept aside without hesitation.
As it stands, ATCS alone allows the police to access confidential information held by government departments (of which you are one), including passing the details on to other police forces around the world (§17 to 20) so you can understand that the assurances provided are taken with a pinch of salt. If anyone were to believe for one moment that the UK government would not pass in a heart-beat a statute that serves its purpose then I believe that such a person were a figment of the imagination.
Having extensive experience in and around UK and European subsidiaries of US companies, I can say with great certainty that the rules and legislation governing those companies are comprehensive and complete and that any company failing to abide by the US legislation (even on foreign soil) are subject to severe penalties including imprisonment.
There are far too many examples and statistical information available which I can quote by way of response but like you I do not have the time and unlike you I do not have the resources available to me. Suffice to say, I am not persuaded by your responses to me and I will consider my position further as I take the time to review all the documents you have suggested to me as well as any documents that come to light as a result of that review.
Following the review, I will be better informed as to my next course of action which, of course, includes completing and returning the census form to you.
Theo C. Cupier
Here are the links referred to in the ONS letter:
Census data security measures
Commitment to confidentiality and data security