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Census 2011 – would you trust an arms company with your data?

With Lockheed Martin being a lead contractor for the UK’s 2011 census, Geoff Meaden asks if the data collected will really be secure.

2011 UK Census logo

In March 2011 Britain’s once-a-decade national census will be carried out. The aim is to record a wide range of information on every person in every household in the United Kingdom, in order to help guide provision for local and national public services. To this end, the census is compulsory. A little known fact about the census, however, is that the main contract, including data capture, was won by a subsidiary of US corporation, Lockheed Martin, which also helped with the 2001 census.1

Lockheed Martin is the world’s second largest weapons manufacturer2 and makes Trident nuclear missiles for the USA and UK. It also holds a one-third share in the management contract for Britain’s Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Aldermaston, which is undergoing redevelopment as the government pushes towards replacing its nuclear weapons system. A recent growth area for Lockheed Martin has been “intelligence and surveillance”, and as part of this work the company has moved into data collection. Vice-President, Lorraine Martin is reported to have said, “We want to know what’s going on anytime, any place on the planet”.3

Data concerns

There are serious concerns that the data gathered by the census may fall under the US Patriot Act if a US-owned company is involved in its collection and, as such, there would be a legal requirement for the company to make the information available to their government. Additionally, there is concern that the census information may be made more widely available in the USA, not only for law enforcement purposes, but also to private entities.

We have no legal precedents as to whether, under the pretext of national security, this census information can be acquired by the US government. The UK Office of National Statistics claims that our data will be safe4 but the UK government has demonstrated on several occasions lax security arrangements in the management of digital data containing personal records. And the recent so-called “WikiLeaks” revelations shows how easy it is to get hold of supposedly secure digital information.

The uncounted people

The data gathered by the ten-yearly census is easily the most comprehensive data set in the UK, and it is used extensively for various socio-economic purposes. Following the 2001 census 6% of households in the UK failed to comply with submitting their household information. This means that about three million people were “uncounted”.

An investigation into this established that a large group of people who did not comply were from the Muslim community. Many members of this community continue to mistrust the UK and US governments, and the large corporations who wield influence with them. Having Lockheed Martin gather census information is hardly likely to encourage compliance and this will result in increasingly unreliable census data. One wonders how many US citizens would be happy for a British weapons manufacturer and surveillance company to collect their census data!

Ethical objections

By contracting Lockheed Martin to do this work, what was a perfectly respectable and useful socio-economic activity may now be perceived as part of the security world of intelligence and surveillance. There will be a range of ethical reasons why people may not wish to comply, from concerns about the security of their personal data to not wishing to boost the profits of a weapons manufacturer. So I hope that we in the science and technology communities will give support to people who do not wish to comply with the 2011 UK national census, and that we will campaign to get this contract terminated in the future.

Dr Geoff Meaden is a retired University lecturer who now does consultancy work for the United Nations. He has been active in the peace movement for more than 40 years, and is presently keen to promote ways in which UN peace-keeping can be more effective. He is extremely concerned that various sectors of the military-industrial complex seem to be “beyond the law”.

References

1. Office of National Statistics (2008). Census reaches contract award milestone. News release, 28 August.

2. SIPRI (2010). SIPRI Yearbook 2010: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security. Chapter 6. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

3. St Clair J (2005). Lockheed and Loaded, Counterpunch, 22-24 January.

4. For example, see note 1.

5. Office of National Statistics (2006) National and local response rates.

6 comments to Census 2011 – would you trust an arms company with your data?

  • Lindy

    Don’t forget about CACI doing data collection in Scotland!

  • David

    I doubt if anyone will fill in the UK National Census now. It used to be illegal not to complete it, but I don’t see how it can be now, as the whole business smells to me. Also, imagine someone completing it and admitting it to others. What would people think of that person. It could lead to ostracisation of the handful nationally of people (probably in 2, 3 or maybe 4 figures?) who are stupid enough to complete it and then admit it.

    • I am afraid that you are wrong.
      Most people will complete the census.
      The minority who are concerned about the security of their identity will also probably supply the information in the end, not least because of the financial penalties which the courts will exact, repeatedly, on those who do not.
      Even if one does not believe the assurances of the Office of National Statistics, (such as “All data will be processed in the UK and remain in the UK”) the penalties for breaching data security are only two years imprisonment and of course, that would not be applied to US citizens.

  • Rob

    Can anyone give me some idea as to why if this questionnaire is used to “plan and fund services for your community – services like transport, education and health.” Why do they need such info as…
    – Qualifications (since that was years ago)
    – My job title
    – What i did in said job
    – The main activity of my employer
    – The name of said organisation
    – Also finally the address of said workplace

    Surely they should already have such information regarding who i work for etc… Also as i said above, I fail to see the reason for this information in regards to the reasons given. Can knowing some of the things listed above really help them plan and for what exactly?
    I think i shall respond to these questions as “NOT NEEDED FOR GIVEN REASONS OF QUESTIONNAIRE” unless someone can explain to me otherwise.

  • Stuart

    I don’t know *what* to make of this census.
    Why waste tax payers’ money asking questions that are *already answered* by existing government records?

    If you have a UK passport, for example, a record will exist at the passport office!
    Likewise, your employment details are already known by Inland Revenue!

    As for questions about ethnicity, personal beliefs, and even veiled checks on sexuality…. Well, I can’t even imagine how *any* of these areas are relevant to law making or public spending reviews.

    Then to hear via CAAT that the whole thing is to be processed by an American arms manufacturer? I feel like I have woken up in a parallel world……….

    The whole document, and its processing, seems farcically inefficient and wasteful. Worse, some questions hint at possible government consideration of somewhat sinister future policy areas – relating to areas such as race/ethnicity/sexuality, employment and employability.

    Is Big Brother alive and well – and wasting tax payers’ money? It certainly looks that way to me. I for one am not impressed – and am concerned at what this bodes for the future.

  • I am inclined to think that the wording on the front of the census form ‘this information is required by law’ (I hope I’ve got this right as the form is not available to me just now) exempts individuals from supplying it, for the very reason given above, i.e. that Government agencies already hold most if not all of it.

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