Processing census results continues to be an issue

Czech Census

Two weeks after the national census began, the Czech Statistics Office has announced that more than 98 percent of census forms have been returned. Because of the widespread public criticism that preceded the census, this is a much higher number than many people expected. But the controversy over the data included in the census questionnaires is not over, as there are still concerns that this information could be abused. Olga Szantova has been following the story.

Czech Census
Although the general public's fears over the national census seem to have been allayed, the Office for the Protection of Personal Data is not satisfied, and wants further assurances that the information gathered will not be misused. The office's spokesman, Ladislav Hejlik, explains:

"Computer processing of the data should not start before the necessary steps are taken to make sure that the information will be secure, and that there is no possibility it can be misused. We do not object to initial, manual processing, but we do not want the process to continue before we are certain that the information is properly protected."

Senator Edvard Outrata, the author of the law, on the basis of which the census was conducted, says this attitude has taken him by surprise.

"I didn't expect that. The collection of the data actually went very well, as far as I can tell, and we are now in a position where, if the data are to be used, the Statistical Office needs to start processing. I gather from their statement that the Institute for the Protection of Data believe that the experience from the collection in some way jeopardized the protection and they think that this is new data. I don't see it like that at all, at this point, at least."

The Office for the Protection of Personal Data claims that two parts of the census questionnaires are not in accordance with the law and should not be processed at all.

Those questions involve far more detail than the census law allows. Instead of asking how many children a woman has given birth to, the questionnaire asked how many of them were born alive and how many stillborn, and how many of them were born during the woman's current marriage. Another group of questions that was beyond the scope of the law concerns entrepreneurs. They weren't supposed to answer questions like how many people they employ.

Although the Office for the Protection of Personal Data does not want these questions processed, it seems that the vast majority of people who filled them in, didn't mind. Senator Outrata believes the census was a success.

"The campaign against the census did not succeed with most of the people. The frightening stories about what everything the Statistical Office wants to get out of people clearly turned out to be wrong once they saw the actual questionnaire. I heard many people say that they don't understand the hum-drum that went on, once they saw the questionnaire."

Author: Olga Szantová
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