/ Technology

Why I don’t consent to the census

Filling out the census

The government says it will impose fines of up to £1,000 for those who don’t fill in its compulsory census – a heavy-handed approach that makes me want to rail against it like a rebellious teenager.

Sure it may be useful for the government to know a bit more about its citizens, but should it have the right to force us to fill it in and threaten us with a £1,000 fine?

My colleague Martyn Saville argues that it does, but these tactics make me (not known as a conspiracy theorist) question its motives.

Census guilty of information overload

The very first census (dating back to 1801) showed little information other than the number of people in the UK and the occupation of the main householder.

Fast-forward to 2011 and the government needs to know almost everything about me: name; sex; occupation; relationship status; the state of my health; my educational qualifications; who I work for; what I do and how I get there… the list goes on.


According to the census website the information it collects is ‘used to help plan and fund services for your community – services like transport, education and health’. This information will be protected and private for ‘100 years’.

What happens to our data?

I have a number of issues with this. Firstly, how will telling the government if I have an ‘overnight guest’ on the day I fill in the census really help fund services? Do they really need all the information they collect?

Currently, there’s a debate raging around data minimisation and online companies such as Google, who some argue are collecting too much data. Shouldn’t the same questions be asked of HM Gov?

I’m also sceptical about how private my information will be. The government’s track record in looking after personal data isn’t great, not to mention the fact that the UK is well known as the ‘leaky bucket of Europe’.

The EU Commissioner is currently proposing, again with relation to being online, that we should have the ‘right to be forgotten’ – i.e. to regain control of our data. Should governments be exempt from this?

Jedi mind tricks

At the last census a reported 390,000 people declared their religion as Jedi and 7,000 people said they were witches.

Is this just high jinks or am I not the only one who has serious concerns about how their data will be used? With a ‘Count Me Out’ campaign gaining momentum and whispers of growing numbers of people planning to boycott the form, it seems likely I’m not alone here.

Perhaps, some people think £1,000 is a risk worth taking when it’s their privacy at stake.

Do you share these concerns or are you happy to fill the census out? Read why Martyn Saville loves the census and thinks it should go even further.

Are you for or against the 2011 census?

For (60%, 391 Votes)

Against (40%, 257 Votes)

Total Voters: 648

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prue says:
31 March 2011

I have completed it. I share concerns about data security but as others have pointed out simply going online destroys your personal security. Data mining is big business and I am horrified at the amount of personal information you can gather online on all kinds of people without paying a penny – and a lot more if you subscribe to one of these data mining sites.

How many of you have a loyalty card? Why do they do these? They collate the data on what you buy, where you shop etc and keep in it a file all about you. It’s got nothing to do with rewarding you for your loyalty 🙂

I’m a family historian – I know the efforts people went to to get the 1911 census released early – they refused to do it and they did NOT promise they would keep that one locked for 100 years. So I doubt they will consider releasing this one early. But your descendents will bless you for completing it carefully and thoroughly – I’m fairly miffed I can’t add comments for my yet to be born relatives online. And the family history community is tending to do it online and keep the actual form as a historical document to keep and pass on.

Falkenna says:
31 March 2011

I subscribe to Which? to help me negotiate the unrestrained greed of our global economy, but sometimes I forget that in the end, it is a magazine for the sole purpose of consumerism . But I did expect better than implied mockery of those whose love of the planet we’re wrecking, to produce those consumer goods, runs deep to the point of spirituality. I myself don’t like the word “witch”, but plenty do; still, the Pagan Federation has been negotiating since the last census to get both our numbers and our identities recognized. You’ll see a lot more than 7,000 this time who sign up as “Pagan – Witch”, “Pagan – Druid”, or just “Pagan”.

While of course only a relatively small number of those who wrote in “Jedi” actually meant it, in my view even they have a more worthy religion than those who worship only things and money.

One question puzzled me, so answered “no”
“did you spend more than 30 days at another address”
I spent more than 30 days way from home, just not at the same address. I do not see the point of that question

It didn’t matter that you use different addresses – provided they are not your usual address where you filled the form at – so the answer should have been yes.- though it doesn’t really matter.

It is there to find out how many people are transients

7 million households didn’t fill out the Census, so from today 29,000 Census collectors will be knocking on doors to ask if you need help filling it out. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12984379

If you refuse you could be hit by a £1,000 fine. Too harsh?

The collectors will cost the government around £40 million, but if if all 7 million don’t fill the Census out, they could make £7 billion from fines. That’s highly unlikely. Is it worth this expense just to get everyone to fill it out?

Jack says:
11 June 2011

I personally think whether it is just a few questions or not, that it goes against my rights. This has nothing to do with traffic, city transportation, voting, etc etc. Also, if this is a way to draw statistic numbers when they do their polls when making decisions in city or government meetings, just not so. This seems like a socialist thing to do! This is more for the Government to keep track of everything you do, where ever you go. Where is the freedom in our privacy now?! Government should not have a right to keep tabs on you in such manner. This should be your freedom of choice, if not, where is the democracy in that?! Like seriously…enough now! Getting fined because you decided not to give you information, has gone out of hand now. To think these countries pick on the socialists!! Wow! I am not going over board, just making a fare practical point!

Celia Fogden says:
20 June 2011

Almost every country in the world has a census and few countries are as tolerant of failure to comply as the uk. People expect services to be provided – hospitals, doctors, schools, refuse collection, recreation grounds, to name but a few, but they want to pretend they are not there and don’t want to provide information. How daft is that?
They are protected to a ludicrous extent – information is not even shared with local authorities to identify council tax dodgers.
I could provide a long and reasoned argument, but, really, this is all it comes down to. People will take everything that’s going, but they don’t want to do their bit to help the community!

YODA says:
9 August 2011

Hahaha JEDI MIND TRICKS.. Absolute classic. Although the government did say that if enough people claimed to be of the Jedi Religion, the Government would officially acknowledge it as a Religion, and as a result would’ve been obligated to allow tax breaks/benefits to that particular religion and therefore its people. However, even though the target number of people was reached, the Government did not honour their promissory note!

As a ‘democracy’ we have freedoms but they can only be maintained if we as, as individuals accept the responsibilities that enable us to keep those freedoms. The census is a statistics gathering exercise and it is not used as a means of using personal information against those who declare it. The resulting analysis will let the planners and the rest of us know the proportions of the population that have a certain characteristic. For example, how many properties have 2 bedrooms or 3 bedrooms etc. and how many are overcrowded but the individual properties are not identified at the current time. The details will only be released after 100 years. The completion of this census is a responsibility to the community as in fact is voting. We should have the same system as Australia in that respect where those who do not vote are penalised. As members of the club of U.K. residents these are basic duties to each other.

Freeman says:
5 June 2013

The only thing you a required to fill out on the form is how many people live in the house”that is it”they do not need anymore info about you and why would you give up your persona l details so easy???? as for the £1000 fine those that pay it are”idiots” it is all a big con job the same goes for tv licence,bedroom tax,parking ticket fines,council tax you are not required to pay for any of these without your consent,look up “Common/civil law”

people need to wake up