The Office of National Statistics has been working out ways of replacing the census with "administrative data" taken from NHS, HMRC tax records, Department of Work & Pensions benefits records, the Electoral Register, school & university rolls, and other public and private sector sources. In the past year ONS have canvassed the idea of tapping into private companies with databases each covering more than ten million people. The Whitehall programme for finding an alternative to the traditional census is currently exploring the idea of using internet search engines as a source of cheap information gathering on citizens' lives, habits and movements. If accepted it could spell the end of the national census, first conducted in 1801 and carried out every ten years since. The driving force behind the change is the Treasury seeking to make financial savings. The last census, the bulky 52 page giant of 2011, cost almost half a billion pounds and somehow missed out three and a half million people! However, is this a step too far? The possibility of abolishing the census in favour of gleaning information from multinational internet providers such as Google smacks of 1984 and Big Brother invading our privacy. What do you think?
Dr. John Scaife