Rejection of Census E-Petition

I received an email this afternoon from the Government responding to the e-petition to reduce the classified period for census data from 100 years to 70 years. I posted about this back in January (Census E-Petition) when it was at 1,500 signatures and again when it was at 13,000 signatures (Census E-Petition update). The deadline for signatures was 8th March, by which time there were 23,600 signatures.

As expected the response was that there would be no change.

“The e-petition asking the Prime Minister to “reduce the classified period for census data from 100 years to 70 years” has now closed. This is an email response from HM Government.

Thank you for signing the e-petition calling for the closure period on census data to be reduced from its present 100 years to 70 years for the 1911, 1921 and 1931 censuses.

The Government understands the frustrations this delay can cause, particularly to people who are researching their family history. But these frustrations have to be balanced against the assurances given to people at the time about confidentiality. This also has implications today, for public confidence in the privacy of information which people provide in future censuses.

Clearly, the importance of the personal information provided in the census is that it enables a detailed and accurate picture to be built up of our society. This is of great assistance to Government and to the community as a whole in helping shape policies and set priorities for the future. But unless people believe that the personal data they provide – which includes details of their occupation and who is living with them – will remain confidential and secure as they have been promised, the danger is that they might feel reluctant to give sensitive information.

It is for this reason that there is a policy of a 100-year delay before releasing the personal data in the census. The purpose is to minimise the risk of embarrassment both to those living and to their immediate descendants. The Government does not believe this policy should be altered or the explicit assurances given to people at the time broken.

You might like to know, however, that the 1911 census was not taken under this Act. The census returns are held by the National Archives, not the Office for National Statistics. Plans are underway to set up an on-line search service of the 1911 census by 2009, although again personally sensitive material will not be released until 2011. The National Archives will also respond to certain requests for information on the 1911 census under the Freedom of Information Act.

On a sadder note, the 1931 census records were destroyed by fire during the Second World War.

We know this reply will disappoint many people, but hope you will understand that in the long-term, the reasons given are in the best interests of preserving the census for future generations.”

It talks of setting up online access to the 1911 census by 2009, but that personally sensitive material will not be released until 2011. I expect this means that ages will be excluded from the information made available, which will greatly reduce the value of this for identifying members of the family. Still at least there will only be a couple of years after that to wait for the full data.

I was hopeful that the petition would succeed and that the additional census years would help me to break down my family tree ‘brick wall‘ . My paternal grandfather is proving very difficult to track back due to the lack of information I have about him. It would have been nice to find him in the later censuses and maybe find some other relations.

I will have to check the website for his voyages to Africa during the 1930’s in the same way I used it for the Voyage to New Zealand 100 years ago post a couple of weeks ago. I’ll have to wait a while though as they are only up to 1909 at the moment.

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