back to article MPs demand US spooks' guarantees on census data

An influential group of MPs has urged the government to seek assurances from Washington that the Patriot Act would not be used to access personal data contained in the UK census, if it is outsourced to US defence contractor Lockheed Martin. The cross-party Treasury Select Committee is making the call today as part of the …


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  1. Andy

    So "UK PLC" is a US company now?

    doesn't surprise me.

  2. Paul Hargreaves

    Shame we can't do this stuff in Britain

    It's amazing we have to continually outsource everything. The government shouldn't need to outsource it's own data collection and processing. And by outsource I mean outsource to any commercial company, foreign or domestic.

  3. MarmiteToast

    @Paul Hargreaves

    True, but then we'd have to put it down as an expense on the balance sheet. I can almost guarantee this wont be paid for upfront and will instead be paid for over many years in the same manner a loan is repaid.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Oh no, of course we won't, do you want me to sign anything?


    We've got nutters running around trying to blow up children in Pizza restaurants in Exeter, what we really need is assurance that the US aren't going to access information on grounds of their national security.

    This sounds like a back covering moment from our worthless MPs. They know the yanks will look, they know it, but they don't want the blame if it gets out. If they were concerned, why outsource it? My Answer, because they're snivelling incompetent tossers. Thank god they're leaving in 2 years.

    Aren't politicians just so worthy of respect?

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Welcome... the United States of Britain.

    (Note the Great has now departed)

  6. Matt


    I agree.

  7. Steve

    Census adjustments

    28,000 might seem a big underestimation, but that's out of a population of around 60m so its less than 0.05%. Unless you mean 28,000 more migrants than expected.

  8. Andy Jones

    Feck the government

    If they outsource this census to an American company then I will refuse to fill in the forms. It is as simple as that. I shall just cross out the form and write on it 'I refuse to provide my details while this census is in the hands of an untrustworthy foreign nation' or something like that. Take me to court Herr Brown and I will take it all the way to the European courts!

  9. Anonymous Coward

    @Shame we can't do this stuff in Britain

    Surprise not going with Crapita then, maybe the brown envelopes arn't so forthcoming these days.....

    Mines the one with "J Smith, 1 Anystreet, Somewhere" written on the back.....

  10. Chris Morrison

    @Paul Hargreaves

    Outsourcing of this sort of thing is most definatley a godo think.

    There is one census every 10 years. If the government run this we are left paying people, pensions, NI for a service that only really needs people working for a year or two, whats more it will be late and over budget.

    If we give it to a private company we pay maybe 5 years worth of what we would pay (so the corporate company can make some good money), have no NI or pension liability, no common staffing issues (strikes, grievences, etc) and the project will still run late and overbudget.

    What needs to change is the governments gravy train contracts. If companies run over budget and late then they should be fined or not paid as much. That works both ways though, the government needs to let them do a project without changing the spec every 5 minutes.

  11. John Munyard


    There is no reason at all why the tender cannot state an explicit requirement that all data must be physically stored and maintained within the UK, and cannot be accessed from abroad.

    I mean how hard is this stuff?

    Articles like this reall depress me. This is a simple competance matter which exposes spineless, supine ministers and a pathetic civil service procurement process. Our country is being run by retards, and all our personal data is at stake once again.

    Absolutely pathetic...

  12. Chris Williams (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: Census adjustments

    Story has been clarified; thanks,

    - Chris

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    worse than HMRC data giveaway

    .... assurances are worth little, just dont give such a contract to the merkins. Its definitely going to find its way into a government database.

  14. Steven Hewittt


    Not being funny, but how bloody hard can it be. Surely it's a case of a temporary office filled with a lot of temp data monkeys and a few competent IT guys.

    I'll tell you what, I'll do it for a mere £400 milion. Minimum wage x 30 for the data clerks, and some cash for the IT guys. Rental of premises and then a couple hundred £k for the equipment.

    Take 6 months to setup, and 2 years for all processing. Then presumably it gets sent to HMG for them to take a peek into our lives.

    Far to much money being spent on it, and once again privacy is just an after thought.


    The US Patriot Act as NO MERIT within the UK. We are a seperate country believe it or not and US Laws have no meaning within our boarders.

    By all means let foreign companies do it - if we really have to outsource it - but I think you'll find that the DPA and contract law has a lot more clout than some "Patriot Act" from some foreign land does. Out laws should protect our data - surely some foreign law cannot superseed that...

    <wakes up>

    Sorry - thought I was living in a sane, normal world where the people voted to run the country give a crap about the electorate and their privacy.

    FFS - get me off this island...

  15. shaun

    Re: Numpties

    go on, so correct. i've never filled in a census and never will and i'm yet to even recieve a complaint about it. if they can't be bothered to find me and make me complete a form how can i trust them to ensure my details are safe from FBI snooping.

  16. Paul Hargreaves
    IT Angle

    Hmm... another thought

    £450m in cost.

    60m or so people in the UK.

    That works out at about £7.50 per person.

    Wow. Nice to know how my tax money is being spent.


    Surely there is a better way of doing these things though. We aren't having a general election this year so the people who could have been doing that could be doing this instead. Or tracking down the people who have been affected by the 10p tax removal (select * from population where income<18000)?

    And don't do these things every 10 years if it's a big deal. Do approximately 1/10th of the house holds every year based on NI numbers so that people only get bothered every so often.

    Why does it all just seem so hard?

  17. John Macintyre


    That may be true, but if that data is transferred to their american offices it's on american soil, and they have the ability to incite the patriot act.

    at least they're admitting they're giving it away, rather than losing then complaining some numpty emailed it by mistake.

    but don't get me wrong, i don't agree with it, just more proof the govt have screwed this country so much it doesn't trust it's own people or companies to run it, so they give it to everyone else. fuel, gas, electicity.... maybe they should outsource the govt to india, they may all be called susan and john but they'll still be a darn sight better than the muppets running the show at the moment

  18. James

    NO NO NO NO !!

    Have our government totally lost any sense of reality?? (Maybe some would say they had years ago).

    There is absolutely NO WAY that UK personal data should be in any company or organisation outside the UK itself.

    What sort of brain dead moron in the government actually thinks that any large US company can be trusted in any way whatsoever when it comes to a "request" from the Department of Homeland Security ?

    STOP because these morons have to be stopped before the rights of every citizen of this country have been sold, supplied, traded.

  19. Jamie

    The country I loved!!!

    I remember when I was first getting ready to emmigrate to this country from Canada.

    I was moving to a country that was free, people were treated with respect, and the government was for the people.

    I stayed longer than the 2 years that was originally planned as I loved it here so much.

    I am now getting homesick and that is mostly because I am afraid to raise my son up in this country that listens to every nutcase on the street rather than common sense.

    You cannot celebrate St. George's day as it may offend some immigrant.

    You cannot fly a cross as that will offend someone.

    You cannot get a house as the prices are increasing by ten fold compared to salaries.

    You can get up and state that 911 7/7 are justified and that you should kill British and Allied forces, but you cannot walk by Westminster with a shirt stating freedom.

    People can break into your house, threaten your family, and you can only tell them to bugger off.

    I am getting scared, not of the criminals on the street; but of the criminals in Westminster.

    Long Live Guy Fawkes.

  20. Spleen

    What surprises me

    Is that they can't just ask for it already. If they can build missile defence systems in our country that offer no protection to us, kidnap our citizens and refuel torture flights at our airbases, I'm pretty sure if they asked for our census the Government would just give it to them. There's a war on, you know.

    "We never forget who we're working for" is a nice, reassuring slogan. Particularly as, since they'll be working for our government, they'll be working for us, really. And we'll never forget you. We'll never forget where you live. We'll never forget where you work. We'll never forget that you have a second wife and three children (6, 8 and 12). We'll never forget that you used to round up your travel expenses by a bit more than was honest. We'll never forget that you have a fear of dark, cramped places. We'll never forget that you once lived next door to a radical preacher. We'll never forget that you called the Church of Scientology "a dangerous cultish bag of cocks" on a blog comment. We'll never forget that you opted out of Phorm. Obviously we'd never do anything to hurt you with this information. But we'll never forget it.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    @Steven Hewittt

    I agree. How hard can it be? Are we really saying there isn't one company in the whole of the United Kingdom which can do this for £450m?!?


    Steve - I'm one of the IT guys you mention in your post. Give me a call if you tender and win the contract :-)

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    <no title>

    It's a strange world. The government is happy to let foreign companies bid for gathering valuable present day census information; but I, as a UK citizen, am not allowed to see the old census data that shows my late grandmother is finally born and living in this country. Quoting daft arguments such as "we promised to keep the data secret for 100 years" when they know citizens didn't have a choice about supplying the data anyway, so it was just an intention at the time.

  23. Rob Briggs
    Black Helicopters

    @Steven Hewittt

    Sadly the PATRIOT Act does apply here and worldwide to any US-registered individual or corporation. Say Lockeed win the contract, then the US spooks can go happy hunting for anyone with Islam as their registered religion through the data and there's nothing Lockeed can do to stop it, even assuming they wanted to in the first place. Just like those ludicrous laws that see NatWest bankers hauled off to Texas for (non-)crimes they (allegedly) committed in the UK.

    Black helicopters for obvious reasons!

  24. Dave Bell

    Things are getting better.

    I understand that the Information Commissioner is getting really good at locking the stable door.

    I just wish they could do something before the horse scarpers.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Networks work *both* ways.

    LM would need to install a completely seperate network infrastructure to "guarantee" this data is kept in-country. How else can they be sure that none of the data gets routed via non-UK servers? And how likely is that to happen?

    And if anyone based over here sends an email back home asking for help with writing any part of the software, wouldn't that be enough to "allow" the Patriot Act to apply to the data?

    Besides, since when did physical borders ever stop data transfer? *Especially* since that nice little golfing range still exists in the Menwith Hills area... you know, the one with the giant golf balls...

  26. SImon Hobson Silver badge

    @ Steven Hewittt

    >> The US Patriot Act as NO MERIT within the UK.

    Oh yes it does !

    Just think, our government imposes contractual restrictions etc etc etc. US snoops want to peek at the data, they invoke the PATRIOT act - what does US company do ? Tough decision what ?

    Option a) refuse as they would be breaking their contract, senior execs get a free holiday in Gitmo

    Option b) give them free access and tell no-one. Even if anyone finds out, the worst they'll get is a firm telling off - and unless they are stupid enough to actually visit the UK then absolutely nothing will happen to senior execs as the US won't reciprocate on the extradition agreement we have with them.

    So if this goes to a US company then our Government CANNOT, I repeat absolutely CANNOT, guarantee that it won't be exported and handed over to whatever US authorities decide they'd like a browse.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    US corporations should be ruled out

    As long as totalitarian laws like the "Patriot Act" are in force, HMG should make it illegal to outsource any work - no matter how trivial - to any US corporation. They are bound by US law, which will certainly ignore our rights and insist on trawling through our personal data.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    What a bunch of blooming idiots you blokes are

    The Patriot Act has no affect whatsoever on spying on Brits. It legalizes spying on Yanks!

    I'd think that after 230 some years you'd know spying on Brits has always been legal on this side of the pond!

    Besides, why bother getting LM involved? Better to read it from the direct feed in the government office.

  29. Anonymous Coward


    "There is absolutely NO WAY that UK personal data should be in any company or organisation outside the UK itself."

    Arn't we forgetting something? DVLA outsourced data storage to a firm in Iowa - firm mails HDD - firm loses HDD - provsional drivers in UK have their data floating around US. All this w/out Patriot Act being invoked.

    BTW - Patriot Act relates to any company that operates in US not just US companies.

  30. Anonymous Coward

    Data Protection Act

    The DPA prevents data which can personally identify an individual being processed outside the EU unless that country has similar privacy laws (and the US is not on that list). There's nothing stopping LM (and by extension the US gummint) exporting and trawling through aggregate data, but if it can personally identify you (even indirectly) then there are only three ways they can legally export it.

    1. You give permission for it to be exported, say by ticking a box on the form.

    2. The company contractually agrees it will abide by EU data protection standards.

    3. The company is granted "safe harbour" status by the US state dept, which doesn't really apply as it's only for data storage.

    Two problems though. First, with all these options the data is still subject to subpoena in the US. Second, if requested under the Patriot Act then Lockhead Martin is not allowed to notify that it's been requested:

    "(d) No person shall disclose to any other person (other than those persons necessary to produce the tangible things under this section) that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has sought or obtained tangible things under this section."

    So even through the Information Commissioner (or you personally, according to [1]) could prosecute if data was subpoenad, it would have no way of knowing that it had been.

    Bottom line, once personally identifiable data leaves the EU, there's no way to ensure it will remain private.

    Nope, all in all this is a really bad idea. Write to your MP and tell him why the tender should go to an company based in the EU.


  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bah, wrong footnote

    [1] should be A damn good read it is too.

  32. Tony
    Black Helicopters


    "i've never filled in a census and never will "

    The responsibility for filling in the form is that of the "head of the household" - it's quite possible that you have never been in that position at the time of the census as it only takes place every 10 years. However, the penalties for failing to complete the form are quite severe - it can lead to a custodial sentence (and not just "you're nicked chum!")

    As it happens, I was selected a while back to take part in a different National statistical process - I now get someone coming round to see me every year to check on what has happened in my life - it's a 45 - 50 minute survey. Apparently, this will now happen every year until I croke (if I move house, they will come looking for me). So when the government statistics turn out to be total garbage, you can blame me as I am not even close to being Mr Average.

  33. Paul

    What about...

    If LM set up a subsidiary company in the UK? It would therefore exist as a separet legal entity and not be under US law.

  34. Anonymous Coward

    numpties + retards

    = numtards©

  35. Suburban Inmate
    Black Helicopters

    Just imagine...

    Sorry if I've had a bit much Stella, but I'm self employed and I've done my work for the day. Ah the luxury of a self-determined life!

    Yeah anyway... Thank goodness they (MI*, ???, etc) aren't collating and mining all this data with the online No. 10 petitions system ("please Sir, may I have some more?"), ANPR driving records, bank accounts, communications data (call/location data), internet usage records from the "Black Boxes" (ACLU? RSF? NO2ID?), magazine subscriptions (, and whatnot to identify potential subversives (i.e. non-violent citizens, love their country, hate The Man and his mates screwing their country)

    If they did/are doing all that (which they are already have the ability to do, and have a massive counter-democratic incentive to carry out) then anyone attempting democracy is fucked.

    But no... I'm sure it's just gross incompetence! As it always is for everything the gov have done to us, ever. Rather than a deliberate well-thought-out attack upon everyday democracy. So no need to rise up and blah blah blah...

    Yup. The gov is just stupid. Nothing to see here. Go back to sleep everyone!


    Time for a We won't sign the Census Campaign (whilst this Government is on the defensive)

    Actually, the US can give whatever assurances it likes.

    Under US law, (I was trained at US law firm), the US can ignore the undertaking whenever it chooses as US national Interest overrides any other undertaking except Presidential treaty.

    Time for Britain to stand up and say we're only giving census information if it stays in the Country.

    Sense UK


    not CENSUS!

    I pledge not to provide information if its going to the US

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    So disqualify Lockheed from the tender

    On the grounds that they cannot guarantee data protection (even if stored in this country).

  38. Anonymous Coward


    didn't I say in the US-Phorm thread that I worry that the UK is becoming a proving ground for American Big Brother projects? I rest my case.

    This is why multi-national corporations are evil. A multi-national corporation shares data between all of its units in all countries, and has allegiance to no one but itself. Give the data to the UK unit of Lockheed, and homebase in US gets it too (as part of a good disaster recovery plan, of course). Give our US census data to Lockheed, and the British get it too. And everywhere else.

    What I don't get is why the US would want the census data. If they're tracking terrorists, they can share data directly with the British anti-terrorist units - they don't need the census data. Everyone should know by now that the intelligence services is already watching more than just the suspected terrorists. So, what good would the census data do for Lockheed/US?

    They said in pursuing the (US) Watergate scandal, "Follow the money". Well, people, follow the data. Remember, as bad as things are for you guys, it's a little worse over here for us in the fact that our government under King George Bush II and his cronies have given up our government for full-corporate rule for the past 8 years. (Or maybe it's always been there, and King George Bush II screwed up his performance so bad that the citizens' suspension of disbelief was broken like a twig.) I only hope his successor and the US Congress will re-assert authority (re: regulation) over corporations and bring us back from the brink of self-destruction.

    Alien, because the truth is out there.

  39. Chris iverson
    Thumb Down

    An American here

    I think that the Patriot act has far and wide gone beyond what the intention was. Considering now for international travel I have set up a remote terminal to access so I can run my laptop with a live CD. Therefore customs can wonder why my laptop has no hard drive. No data for them to look at and take unless they want my free linux distro on CD.

    As for this mess, I agree that there should be a UK based company that can perform the requested tasks. Why is one of our defense contractors doing that work. Even worse is that your government is considering it.

    screw it....going to africa or the moon or somewhere not here

  40. Anonymous Coward

    I could never imagine...

    I could never imagine that a 100% public activity as the census could be in outsourced to private companies at all. If there are doubts on what the state does with your data, what to think when it's in private corporative hands?!

    I have worked for my local census and every single worker was employed by the state or (rather) public institutions such as the local Town Hall or the regional statistics department. Not a single private company involved - what for? And certainly the census was as efficient as it can be.

    This atitude of outsourcing everything to private contractors is eroding public institutions and normally not achieving better results at all. It's just a way to divert public money away.

    The US totalitarian laws are just the proverbial cherry on the cake, not the main issue here, IMO.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters


    "There is no reason at all why the tender cannot state an explicit requirement that all data must be physically stored and maintained within the UK, and cannot be accessed from abroad.

    I mean how hard is this stuff?"

    Doesn't matter. At all. Patriot Act puts anybody in jail if they are US citizens (and others go to Gitmo.)

    When US uses it (and they will, just to get the information, who's there to stop them?), either Locheed Martin (a US-based company and no, separate daughter in UK won't change anything) gives the data or top honchos of the company are in jail serving 10 to 20 years.

    With these options, some "agreement" with British isn't even worth the paper it's written on. No matter what it says.

    British can't put LM CEO to jail just like that, so they'll lose before the battle has started. I'll bet anybody 10 to one that CEO put's his personal freedom above any agreement his company has done, no matter what.

    British governement either knows this and just don't care or they are idiots. Choose one.

  42. Oldfogey

    @Head of the Household.

    Yes, the head of the household is legally responbsible for filling in the form.

    Problem - who is the head of the household?

    This house is jointly owned by myself and my wife; only ONE person can be held responsible - which is it?

    I spent some time investigating this for the last electoral register, which has the same legal requirement, and it became abundantly clear that there is no such legal definition. One of the reasons for not proceeding with a prosecution for non-completion in 2001 was where "responsibility for making a return had not been established"; I believe all actual prosecutions (38) were of single adult households.

    I shall, regardless, fill in the next census - for what good the information will do them by the time I have making errors, misinterpreting the question, and putting down answers which, whilst technically true, do not help. eg on ethnicity I shall answer "mixed other"; after all, when you get down to it, aren't we all?

  43. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Acid Tests and Skunk Works Beta

    I Think we may discover that New Labour sold out to the Patriot Act from the very Beginning and play second fiddle to its foreign tunes. In some times, would that Abdication of Responsibility be tantamount to Treason and Grand Larceny deserved of a Congressional Medal?

    Do you ever get the Feeling that those who would presume to Think that they are in Charge, have absolutely no Idea of what they are Charged with and in Charge of, with them just going through Choreographed Motions/Established Procedures rather than Exercising any Intelligence or Brilliance.

    That is an Illogical and Wide Open 42 Attack Vulnerability which can Punish Systems Catastrophically if Linked to Provide and Ensure Compliance....... but no Less than they would thoroughly Deserve for the Deception, n'est ce pas?

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ AC

    "British governement either knows this and just don't care or they are idiots. Choose one".


  45. jon green

    Could rey a petition - or add to one

    There is this petition already started

    It misses the point of the US "patriot act" but rather than start another one and dilute the numbers.....? May not have any value at all but I can't be cynical all the time ;-)

  46. Michele John

    The government is stoopid . . .

    oh no it isn't!!!! I get fed up with the same mantra being trotted everytime the government seemingly does something illogical, irresponsible, or damn dangerous. All political acts are well thought out, are planned according to an agenda that has been agreed well in advance and can be appreciated by any good chess player. Nothing happens by chance or accident.

    Britain and the US are on the same page as regards the so-called terrorist threat, Britain wants to look like the 'good' cop and the US has taken on the role of 'bad' cop. Britain has been and still is at the forefront of black propaganda - experience during the two world wars has been invaluable to MI* and their cronies and counterparts in US and Israel. Having a ready-made list of all muslim and ethnic 'minority' people is indeed "Hitler's wet dream".

    Don't forget the role of IBM during the second world war - they provided the IT system used in the concentration camps to systematically log and control the movements of all persons considered a burden or non-grata to the state. The National Database will fulfill this role to an unimaginable degree should it ever get off the ground. Be aware that the government are not interested in whether their systems work or are fair in the eyes of the general public - they are only interested in the climate of fear and mistrust that such systems engender - that's where the true power sits. Divide and conquer.

  47. Edward Pearson
    Thumb Down

    @Michele John

    Well thought out comments like this are the reason I still come to the El Reg.

    There are two well established methods of controlling a populous; Fear and Hope. Some would argue that religion is a third, I consider it to be a subset of Fear.

    Hitler used Hope, today we use Fear.

  48. Anonymous Coward



    Describes LM as a data mining ratbag... never mind that, previous posts are bang-on re: the corporate responsibility of US-based businesses... they are *all* under the yoke of US National Security directives, regardless of the contract that might be signed with EU governments. Want to keep data local? Engage a local company.

    If the powers that be want to outsource to non-UK company, might as well give it to India (most of the UK data is there already anyway).

    Joke alert because this suggests most of Govt IT-related projects are a sad joke anyway (hmmm, would the LM proposal include German error codes as well? )

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