Sunday, April 20, 2008

EPIC Census Privacy Page

EPIC Census Privacy Page: "United Kingdom

A recent example of abuse from abroad can be found in the United Kingdom. It recently has reached the public view that compulsory transfers were considered in Northern Ireland in 1972. A UK government top-secret memo has surfaced describing a plan to relocate Irish Catholics. The plan was written with census data. Although never implemented, the use of census data for non-statistical purposes has caused great concern in Europe.

* Kathleen Cahill, When Catholics Were 'to Be Removed', Washington Post, Jan. 12, 2003.
* Northern Ireland: Contingency Planning, Document reference: PREM 15/1010, July 22, 1972."


Germany has a contrasting history in census reporting. The most extreme example of census abuse is Hitler's use of the census to track minorities for extermination during the NAZI regime. Although this example remains perhaps the most horrifying abuse of the census, Germany's modern use of the census is exactly the opposite. In the aftermath of World War II, privacy protections were placed in the German Constitution. In the 1980s, the German Government instituted a law requiring more information to be provided on the national census. After a public outcry, the law was challenged in court. The issue was brought before the German Federal Constitutional Court by representatives who had been instrumental in the passage of the first German Data Protection Act during the 1970s. The court found the census law unconstitutional based upon what the court termed a fundamental right to informational self-determination implicit in the German Constitution.

After the court decision, the legislature amended the German Data Protection Act in 1990 to include the right of informational self-determination regarding government uses of information as well as information use in the private sector. By including private uses as well, Germany created one of the most broadly reaching privacy protections relating to the census.

European privacy concerns over the census have appeared in strong numbers. Mayer reports on several surveys taken in the 1970's regarding risks over privacy of census reports. In particular England, Germany, the Netherlands, and Northern Ireland reportedly protested in large numbers against the census' undermining of information privacy.

  • Kent Walker, Where Everybody Knows Your Name: A Pragmatic Look at the Costs of Privacy and the Benefits of Information Exchange, 1 Stan. Tech. L. Rev. 106 (2000)(citing Jerry M. Rosenberg, The Death Of Privacy 1 (1969)).
  • Mayer, Thomas S. "Privacy and Confidentiality Research and the US Census Bureau: Recommendations Based on a Review of the Literature". Research Report Series (Survey Methodology #2002-01) Statistical Research Division, US Bureau of the Census, Feb. 7, 2002, Statistical Review of public and interviewer perceptions.
  • Richard Sobel. The Demeaning of Identity and Personhood in the National Identification Systems,15 Harv. J.L. & Tech. 319 (2002).
  • Viktor Mayer-Schonberger, Privacy and the Law: A Symposium, No Choice: Trans-Atlantic Information Privacy Legislation and Rational Choice Theory, 67 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 1309 (1999).
  • Edwin Black, IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation (Crown Publishers 2002).
  • Commission belge de la Protection de la Vie Privée, Avis d'initiative No. 37/2001 of October 8, 2001 concernant l'enquête socio-économique 2001. (Belgian Data Protection Authority's opinion on the compatibility of the 2001 ten-yearly census survey with Belgian privacy regulations.)


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