Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Is This Information Fraud?

Is this a practice run for the Census?  Not according to Wiltshire Council who says the results will 'help in planning how much affordable housing is needed in the county'. The questions on sexual orientation are "required by legislation".

The document, which asks questions about resident's sexuality, debt levels and qualifications, has been sent out to 26.500 households.

The council said responses will be anonymous, but campaign group Privacy International has advised people not to fill out the form at all.  PI's Alexander Hanff told the BBC:

"Questions about sexual orientation [and] how much money you have in the bank are highly personal questions.
"I would say that, whereas there may not be any legal issue here, it certainly goes against a number of principles of the Data Protection Act, such as only collecting as much data as you need for a specific purpose.
"They're asking for far too much data with far too much variants and this is an issue, and a concern, from a privacy perspective."

Strangely, the council's service director for economy and enterprise said,"all this stuff is actually getting cleansed before we get the data".  Data cleansing usually involves verifying collected information and discarding date that was out of date, but it's unclear what is being done to the surveys.  The council hopes to receive at least 6,000 completed surveys.

Many years ago I lived in Wiltshire for about a year and I still have close friends who live in Salisbury.  They were absolutely furious when they received this survey and since then, along with a few dozen neighbours and friends, then have spent all their free time ensuring people know that there is no legal obligation for anyone to complete and return the document.

They have also written to many, including the council's chief executive and Eric Pickles, to complain not only about the content, but the waste of taxpayers' money.  One startling fact they discovered was that at least 2,000 of these surveys had already been completed and returned.

Are we so brainwashed by the Big Brother society Labour inflicted upon us not to question people who ask for personal information?  I suspect those who did complete the survey thought it was a necessity as it was sent by the local authority and included their logo.  Surely this must be classed as information theft.

Update:  Yesterday my friends had a response from Eric Pickles' office who have said they will investigate the matter.  That's possibly as much as they can hope for, but it would be beneficial if Eric Pickles himself publicly reprimanded Wiltshire council for demanding information, which had no relevance in determining the amount of social housing required in the area.

The way to calculate social housing needs is by the number of current applications and assessment of current housing stock. The reasons for this survey are ominous.


Weekend Yachtsman said...

The real purpose of the survey was to find out how many gullible sheep there are in Wiltshire.

The answer is 2000 and (presumably) climbing.

I wonder how many of those 2000 had already signed up for ID cards?

banned said...

Apart from privacy issues why is Wiltshire wasting money by asking questions that will be in the census anyway?

Anonymous said...

My inclination would be to absolutely refuse to provide them with any information at all.

I don’t see how they would be able to work out how much affordable housing they would need to build in any case, from matters relating to debt, or how much money people have in the bank.

Just because you don’t have much money in the bank doesn’t mean you want to live in “affordable housing” (although I would have thought that the aim would be to make all housing “affordable”). I mean, I presume that Charles can “afford” Highgate, and everyone else should be able to afford the house they are living in. (Although I think that in the not too distant future, all but Charlie and the bankers will qualify for this particular human right.)

I’m also trying to work out why on earth they would need to know about your sexual orientation if they are planning house building. Do gay people take up more or less space for example? Do bisexuals take up more? Do people with low sex drives need spare rooms?

Mr Pickles should be able to sort them though, as I see that the council is predominantly Tory with the main opposition being Liberal. Indeed between them the government’s parties make up 95 or the 98 seats on the council (what a lot of councillors). Labour only has 2 seats there at the moment. So just like Oxfordshire’s story about Libraries and mr Cameron’s interventions to keep them open, I’m sure that Pickles will be able to sort this out.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that should read 85 of the 98 seats...

JRB said...

Totally inappropriate and unnecessary questioning. An abuse of executive power.

Some of the questions in the forthcoming census may have more than just a little in common –

will said...

yet more empirical evidence that state planning does not work. the only effective way to calculate how much housing is required is the market mechanism. simple supply and demand would operate perfectly well in a free economy. but due to state involvement in land use, employment, trade and finance the housing market could never be described as a free market.
wiltshire council will not be able to overcome the calculation problem that has stumped all other state attempts at planned economies with this hideous intrusion.

i personally moved from 'unaffordable' berkshire to wiltshire specifically because it was slightly more affordable.

Elby the Beserk said...

"None of your business" is my reply to such questions. The Census will be returned, marked "No contract, return to sender", as I have no contract with the firm running the Census.

subrosa said...

WY, many people of my age would think they were 'doing their bit' completing a questionnaire from the council. Few are aware just how devious authorities and many others are these days at acquiring personal information.

They think it's all to do with 'online' information fraud.

subrosa said...

Exactly banned.

subrosa said...

See what I said to Weekend Yachtsman Tris. That's part of the problem.

subrosa said...

It is an abuse John and mainly of our age group because so many aren't as well-informed as ourselves - or should that read cynical?

Thank you for the link. I was looking for that.

subrosa said...

Well said Will.

subrosa said...

Now Elby, there's a thought. However you're one of the brave who has undertaken Freeman policies. I've yet to decide how to handle mine. Perhaps we need more discussion.

English Pensioner said...

I will not complete any questionnaire for anyone unless it is legally required or in my interest (as when applying for a mortgage) and then only supply the minimum information possible.
I recently wanted a reader's ticket for the county record office and was given a long form to fill in. Having provided my name and address, how long I'd lived there, that I was not disabled and wanted to do family history research, I declined to answer any of the other questions as irrelevant.
"But we need the information to make the necessary checks"
"What checks do you wish to make?"
Thought, then "We need to check that you are who you say you are"
"You have the electoral records for the past twenty years, you can check them, and you are welcome to see my driving licence and pensioners bus pass".
Pause to get supervisor who repeated the same lines parrot fashion, so back to the attack
"What check can you make as a result of knowing my ethnic origin?" Silence, so pushing the point "its unlikely I'd be doing family history research in the eighteenth century if I was not from these parts."
"Knowing this information enables us to provide a better service"
"OK, so tell me what better service this office will be able to offer me if you know my sexual orientation"

Victory - I got my ticket!

And a good job I did as they were nice young ladies and I was just getting round to enquiring whether the council were proposing to start running brothels or gay meeting places.

Now for the Census!

Joe Public said...

Ratepayers receiving the survey should DEMAND that EVERY employee of that council must first publicly disclose their own personal answer to EVERY question.

And, then refuse to submit their own responses.

Bloody cheek.

As Saturday+Sunday Sailor implies, there's at least 2,000 gullible sheep (presuming they submitted 'honest' answers) in Wiltshire.


North Yorkshire Council issued a similar survey a few weeks back also asking how much money the family had in their various bank accounts.
I applied for a Census job recently and that asked for my sexuality.
As if it matters, as if anybody cares. As if where you park Percy is an added qualification.
In such cases, we should all put MYOFB.
I think I will do so when the Census comes.
I am in the mood for some fun.

pa_broon74 said...

I don't think I'll be filling in the census either. If I do I'll describe myself as a post-op transexual Muslim Dwarf with learning disabilities.

When they run that through their underground supercomputer it'll explode.

JuliaM said...

"Are we so brainwashed by the Big Brother society Labour inflicted upon us not to question people who ask for personal information? "

Depends on which 'we' you are talking about. Bloggers, no. The general public? Mostly yes...

Woodsy42 said...

If only there was some legal way back at them, if a resident could take the council to court for breach of some legality?
Personally I always make up answers on the spot to all such personal questions, at least that way comparisons of datasets won't match.
As for the real census I'm intrigued by reading recently that some questions are 'voluntary' and not required by law, does anyone know which ones?

Joe Public said...

@ Woodsy42.

It depends upon where you live.

Going Fast, Getting Nowhere yesterday blogged about it.

Stating your Religion is an optional answer.

Jo G said...

These questionnaires are everywhere: they're even issued by government departments. They ask about ethnic background, religion and sexual orientation. All Civil Service Job Application Forms have them too. This part of these forms is optional but the question is why do they need the information and if it isn't to be used for anything then why do they want to know? If we're all equal why split us into various different groups? Its meant to be about ensuring all groups get fair treatment but it also suggests quotas for jobs rather than merit. "Sorry we can't take any more men we are two short on the number of lesbians we're employing." Ye couldnae make it up.

subrosa said...

Ah EP, a man after my own heart. I too refuse to give information I don't think is relevant.

Well done for tenacity. Sometimes though I throw my hands up in the air and say 'enough. Life can be too short for some tasks.

subrosa said...

Joe, I think many people filled in the form thinking it was legal (although it didn't state that) or are so brainwashed these days they did it automatically.

According to my friends they were amazed some rather wealthy people had completed it too. They said 'some folk will do anything to conform'.

subrosa said...

FFM, did you get the job? There was no point in applying round here as all these jobs are taken by nepotism or balancing favours.

subrosa said...

I'm still deciding what to write pa broon. One question did surprise me and that was your marital status. They have everything but single.

subrosa said...

You're right Julia, I should have excepted bloggers.

subrosa said...

Woodsy, your question could be the point of a short blog post. Will I or will you? ;)

subrosa said...

Jo, if I received a form like this from my local council I'd probably be in court for breech of the peace within days. (Up here that's the excuse police use for anyone who protests quietly).

I'd be walking up and down with my banner outside the council offices letting people know they are not a legal requirement.

It's not too often I decide to rehash my well-worn banner, but this is one occasion.

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