Council survey causes privacy concern

A survey issued by Wiltshire Council has stirred up a privacy debate in the local community, as it asks questions about resident’s sexuality, debt levels and qualifications.

According to the Salisbury Journal, the document has been sent out to 26,500 households across the county “to help the council develop its housing and planning policy” to provide affordable housing in the area.

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…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.

Oddly, 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Data cleansing usually involves verifying collected information and discarding any data that is out of date, but it’s unclear what is being done to the surveys. The council also claims they are required by law to ask about sexual orientation, but what law this is they don’t say.

The council expects 6,000 completed surveys, so it will be interesting to see how many are submitted after the concerns raised.

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2 Responses to “Council survey causes privacy concern”

  1. Michael Cross says:

    This is the Equality Act 2010, surely? Public authority must show that it’s paid due consideration to how policy may affect the disadvantaged etc etc http://www.equalities.gov.uk

  2. PIrkka Lahtinen says:

    As I understand it, the legal requirement arises out of the Council’s statutory duty to show that it is not, in the provision of housing, discriminating against tenants or prospective tenants on the basis of factors including sexual orientation. Of course, one instinctive reaction to the question about sexual orientation is “it’s none of their business”, but on the other hand, if someone were to complain that they had been discriminated against on whatever grounds, I’m sure there would be an equal uproar if the Council were unable to show whether or not that was the case.

    It sounds as though the Council’s initial response has not been as informative as it might have been, but I seriously doubt if their actions are as irrational as they might appear.

    I have no doubt, though, that if you looked into this (with your customary thoroughness) you’d come up with a better account than the Salisbury Journal’s rather perfunctory effort. I’d also lay odds that you would find the survey data is collected and ‘cleansed’ by a third party, and that the council have to accept a third party appointed by central government.

    Over-all, this looks to me far more like a failure of communication between the Service Director and the media, than a failure by the council to do what it has to do.

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