Posted by keith on June 7th, 2011
Actually I’m not. It would have been quite exciting to have been writing a blog from an internet cafe somewhere, or hijacking a wireless connection outside an office building, but it seems I am safe and snug in my home completely bereft of law enforcement officers hammering at my door demanding I complete the 2011 Census. Following on from my public announcement that I would be breaking the “law” (actually breaching the terms of the Census Act, as they aren’t allowed to call it a law) there was a mixture of wholehearted support, denial that the census was anything but an important social tool, and personal appeals to just fill the damn thing in.
As expected I received a few visits from the census taker, a very nice lady in her 50s, I would say, who continued to follow the official line regardless of what I said, although towards the end I did sense that she felt she would rather be somewhere else than at my door listening to various problems I had with the execution of the census. What emerged prior to census day really sealed my position though. It turned out that, during an experimental testing of the census materials, I couldn’t get the envelope to stick down. After all the claims of security on the Scotland’s Census website with regards to CACI (UK) Ltd, they couldn’t even use proper envelope glue, effectively making the act of posting the census form a security failure in itself. It wasn’t just me – of the four people I asked in Scotland, two of them had already noticed this, one had stuck their envelope successfully, and one hadn’t checked. As the two people weren’t even that local to me then I have to assume the problem was more widespread than just my local office.
This I passed onto the Census Office, my local MSP, my MP and a couple of newspapers. The resulting publicity over this complete balls-up was…zero. It seemed that the census was sacrosanct and nothing would be allowed to cast a pall over its exulted status – especially given the amount of money and airtime being utilised telling people that the MUST FILL IN THE FORM. A £1000 fine loomed, so we were all told.
After the second note of non-compliance had been put through my letter box, I bumped into the census taker outside my gate. The conversation went something like this:
“Have you filled in your census form yet?”
“You do know that you have to fill it in or you will get a fine.”
And I walked off to buy a local paper.
The next time I met the census taker was on my doorstep. She was a bit less smiley than usual. I explained that this was nothing personal but I would not be filling in my census form until the Census Office had explained how they were going to deal with the likely security breaches resulting from the failure of the envelopes to seal, and that I had absolutely no confidence in their ability to keep confidential data from a military contractor given that they couldn’t even keep their data safe from casual sorting office glances. This was noted, and that was the last time I ever saw her.
I expected a formal letter soon afterwards. None came. It has been six weeks since the Census was supposed to have been filled in. According to the Census Web Site, this is the compliance process:
1. Your census taker (enumerator) will visit to remind you to complete the questionnaire and offer help and advice to do so. If you’re out, they will leave a reminder card.
2. If the questionnaire is still not with us after seven days, your census taker will visit again and, if you’re out, will leave a second reminder card.
3. If you refuse to take part, that information will be forwarded to the census non-compliance team.
4. You will be sent a warning letter from the Registrar General Duncan Macniven. Warning letters are also issued to people who publicly state that they refuse to fill in a census and/or encourage others not to.
5. You may also be visited by census non-compliance officers and your case may be referred to the Procurator Fiscal. Successful prosecutions will result in a fine of up to £1,000 and a criminal record.
No letter, even though I publicly stated my refusal to fill in the census, and encouraged others not to do so. No visit from non-compliance officers. Nothing.
I am very disappointed; I wanted a fight, in court, and in public. It would have been a great pleasure to explain to the media and the courts that despite my calls to the Census Office and my so-called representatives, no public statement was made, not even the pathetic “You could stick it down with tape” one official respondant suggested, with regards to the impending security breach. I would have loved to have got the Census Office to publicly state that despite not even being able to source a decent glue we should still trust our personal information to a company that used state privilege to escape prosecution for repeated human rights violations.
If it happens, you’ll be the first to know.