Confidentiality

In this section you can find out more about how we protect the confidentiality of census data and ensure transparency and confidence in all that we do.

(NB For information on Scotland’s Census 2021, including a link to the first version of the Scotland’s Census 2021 Privacy Impact Assessment, visit the Privacy in Scotland’s Census 2021 page)

Background

In all of our work, we fully recognise the importance of privacy and confidentiality. All work undertaken as part of Scotland’s Census is governed by various statutory requirements including the Census Act 1920, the Data Protection Act 1998, and the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. Our work depends upon the participation of individuals: and as a result, the maintenance and preservation of their privacy underpins everything that we do. Individuals responding to the census need to know that their information will be safe and secure, who will have access to it and how it will be used. We adhere to guidelines laid down by the Information Commissioner’s Office

Relevant Legislation

Access to census data that can identify households or individuals is strictly controlled. The Census Act 1920 made it a criminal offence to unlawfully disclose confidential census data. The Census (Confidentiality) Act 1991 extended this to people and businesses working as part of the census. Anyone who unlawfully discloses census data can be fined up to £10,000 or sent to prison for up to two years, or both.
It is important to note that no one can get personal census data through a Freedom of Information request. This is set out in sections 38 and 58 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, which states that personal census data is exempt from disclosure for 100 years.
The Data Protection Act 1998 controls how organisations can use personal data they hold. Its principles require everyone who collects data to follow strict rules to keep that data safe. At the heart of the Act are eight rules known as the ‘data protection principles’. These principles require any organisation that collects personal data to handle it safely. You can get more information about this from the Information Commissioner’s Office.
 

The 2011 Census

All personal information collected in the 2011 Census is processed in Scotland. All census staff are trained how to handle personal information and they gave a written commitment to confirm they understood it is a criminal offence to break the confidentiality of personal census details.

We securely wiped or destroyed (or both) all data storage equipment used during the census to ensure no personal information could be retrieved. Independent checks make sure these processes met UK government standards. We also securely destroyed all the returned paper questionnaires. To find out more about our security procedures, see 'Protecting your data’

Everyone’s answers are combined and analysed to produce anonymised (with personal details removed) national and local statistics.

The privacy of personal census information and the protective safeguards implemented by NRS for the 2011 Census are documented in this report - January 2011 Considerations of the Impact on Public Privacy of Scotland’s Census

For more information please see our Frequently Asked Questions.

Privacy notice

Research uses of individual census records

If you returned a census form in Scotland in 2011, NRS holds your personal information. Access to census data that can identify households or individuals is strictly controlled by law. We are committed to protecting the confidentiality of census data, while also making sure that census data can be used to serve the public interest.

There are two ways that researchers can access individual census records for research and statistical purposes which are in the public interest:

  1. Microdata Products
  2. Custom microdata projects.

This privacy notice explains how we may share your personal information with researchers, how long we keep the data and how we protect your personal information to make sure nobody identifies you or your household in the data.

1. Microdata Products

NRS have made three datasets of sampled census data available to researchers who would like to use individual census records (microdata) for research.

These datasets are designed to protect the confidentiality of people and households.  Equivalent datasets are available from the England and Wales and Northern Ireland censuses in 2011.

Data is available at three levels of security – more detailed datasets are held more securely. None of the Microdata Products contain any direct identifiers (e.g. name, address, date of birth).

Dataset

Sample

Access

Anonymity

Teaching Microdata

 1%

Open

Effectively anonymised

Safeguarded Microdata

 5%

Download under license through UK Data Service (link to UK Data Service website)

Effectively anonymised

Secure Microdata

 10%

On application, access through a Secure Research Facility

Personal data

The Teaching Microdata Files contain a limited amount of information about 1% of the Scottish population, chosen at random. This dataset is freely available to download online. We are confident that no individual people or households can be identified in this dataset, because the data is a random 1% sample of the population,

identified in this dataset, because the data is a random 1% sample of the population, and people and households with unusual combinations of characteristics have been removed from the sample to protect their confidentiality.

The Safeguarded Microdata Files contain more detailed information about 5% of the records. The risk of revealing information about individuals or households in this dataset is very low, but not impossible. Because of this there are additional safeguards in place. Researchers are only granted access to this data after agreeing to restrictions on use, data management and storage, and registering the research purpose for each usage of the data. The researcher must be affiliated with an academic institution or public body and the dataset may not be used for commercial purposes. Access to the Safeguarded Microdata Files is administered by the UK Data Service (link to UK Data Service website).

The Secure Microdata Files contain more detailed information about a random sample of 10% of all people, and 10% of all households in the 2011 census. This dataset is given more protection than the other Microdata Products, as the level of detail means there is a higher risk that an individual or household could be identified in the dataset. Researchers can only access this dataset when all of the following apply:

  • The data will only be used for research purposes
  • The data will not be used for automated decision-making
  • The project has been approved by a research ethics panel
  • The project has been approved by an independent panel to consider the public benefit and privacy risks of the research
  • All researchers have been trained to handle personal data safely and appropriately
  • Researchers can only access the data inside a Secure Research Facility.

The results of any data analysis can only be taken out of the secure research environment once a member of NRS or ONS staff has checked that they cannot be used to identify individual people or households.

Secure Research Facilities

Researchers can access the Secure Microdata Files for Scotland’s Census 2011 through the Scottish National Safe Haven, from Safe Settings in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Dundee, St Andrews, Southampton or London. The Scottish National Safe Haven and the Regional Safe Settings are run by the Administrative Data Research Centre (Scotland) (ADRC-S).

Researchers can access the Secure Microdata Files for Scotland, England and Wales, and Northern Ireland censuses through Office for National Statistics’ Secure Research Service, from London, Titchfield, Newport or Belfast.

What is ADRC-S?

The Administrative Data Research Centre (Scotland) is a partnership between Scottish universities and research organisations. ADRC-S coordinates access to the Secure Microdata Files for researchers, provides training, helps researchers to meet their information governance requirements, and assesses proposed research projects.

Sharing the Secure Microdata Files with the Scottish National Safe Haven

To make the Secure Microdata Files available to researchers in Scotland through the Scottish National Safe Haven, NRS have shared the Secure Microdata Files with the Administrative Data Research Centre (Scotland) (ADRC-S).

Legal gateway

NRS is allowed to share personal census data with ADRC-S to facilitate research because of section 4.2 of the Census Act (1920), which enables the Registrar General for Scotland to authorise the analysis of census data.

Joint Data Control

NRS and ADRC-S are now Joint Data Controllers of the dataset.  This means that we make joint decisions about how the data can be processed, including:

  •  who can process the data
  •  what are acceptable purposes for processing the data
  •  how will the data be processed
  •  where can the data be accessed
  •  what can be released.

NRS and ADRC-S have made an agreement to make decisions about data processing together. This means that a researcher can only access the data if both NRS and ADRC-S both agree that they should have access to the data, and information can only be released from the secure research environment if both NRS and ADRC-S both agree that it should be released.  Either party can end the agreement at any time, and if so the dataset must be destroyed.

Responsibilities

NRS and ADRC-S have agreed that the Data Protection Officer for NRS will take responsibility for reporting to the Information Commissioner’s Office any problems or incidents which might put the confidentiality of personal information at risk.

Data Processors

ADRC-S hold a legally binding Controller–Processor Contract with eDRIS (the NHS electronic Data Resource and Information Service), who act as a data processor by providing the Scottish National Safe Haven service and managing the secure transfer, linkage and storage of the data. This Controller–Processor Contract allows eDRIS to contract the physical storage of the data to the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre, a facility of the University of Edinburgh.

Retention

ADRC-S will retain the Secure Microdata Files indefinitely, unless either ADRC-S or NRS decides to end the agreement. In this case the data will be securely and confidentially destroyed.

Your rights as a data subject

The NRS Data Protection Officer is your point of contact for any concerns or questions about the confidentiality of your personal census data in the Secure Microdata Files from Scotland’s Census 2011.

You also have the right to report your concerns to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). For more information visit the ICO website.

The GDPR grants individual data subjects with certain rights, for example the right to access your own personal data, the right to rectify incorrect data, the right to have your data erased, the right to restrict what can be done with your data and the right to object to the use of your data. However, these rights do not apply to the use of personal data for scientific or historical research purposes or statistical purposes, where responding to these rights would prevent the research or statistical purpose from being achieved.  NRS and ADRC-S have agreed that the Secure Microdata Files may only be used for scientific or historical research purposes, and therefore these rights will not apply.

Personal census data is also exempt from Freedom of Information requests under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, and from Environmental Information requests, under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004.  This applies for 100 years after the data was collected.

We are not able to confirm whether or not your data is included in any particular census dataset, as this could put other peoples’ personal information at risk.

Changes to this privacy notice

We keep our privacy notices under regular review. This privacy notice was last updated on Friday 2 November, 2018

Contact Information

NRS Data Protection Officer
HM General Register House
2 Princes Street
Edinburgh
EH1 3YY

Tel: 0131 535 1314
Email: dataprotection@nrscotland.gov.uk

______________________________________________________________

  • The Census Act 1920 made it a criminal offence to unlawfully disclose confidential census data. The Census (Confidentiality) Act 1991 extended this to people and businesses working as part of the census. Anyone who unlawfully discloses census data can be fined up to £10,000 or sent to prison for up to two years, or both.
  • Data Protection Act 2018 Schedule 2 part 6 and GDPR Article 89(2)

2. Custom Microdata Projects

Researchers can apply to access individual census records (microdata) in a secure research facility for a specific research project, usually in order to link census records to another source of data.  The Administrative Data Research Centre (Scotland) coordinates and supports researchers’ applications for custom microdata projects.

Safeguards

Researchers can only access custom microdata for research when all of the following apply:

  • The data will only be used for research purposes
  • The data may not be used for automated decision-making
  • The data will not contain direct identifiers
  • The project has been approved by a research ethics panel
  • The project has been approved by an independent panel to consider the public benefit and privacy risks of the research
  • All researchers have been trained to handle personal data safely and appropriately
  • The researchers and NRS have signed a Data Sharing Agreement making them Joint Data Controllers for the extract of census data
  • The researchers have completed a Data Protection Impact Assessment assessing the privacy risks of the project
  • The researchers can only access the data inside an ADRC-S Safe Setting.

NRS will only agree to supply census data to an approved research project when we are confident that the project has adequate protection against disclosure of personal information, and that we are not providing more data or more detail than is required to address the research question.

The results of any data analysis can only be taken out of the secure research environment once a member of NRS or ONS staff has checked that they cannot be used to identify individual people or households.

Current projects

The following projects are currently using custom census microdata through the Scottish National Safe Haven:

Care in the last days of life – a data linkage study
Dr Iain Atherton and Dr Anna Schneider, Edinburgh Napier University
 

This project looks at the availability of care to people at the end of their lives, and how and why this differs between different groups in Scotland.

This study uses Scotland’s Census 2001 and 2011 records for people who either died less than a year after completing a census form, or who were aged 70 or over on census date. The census records are linked to health records and environmental data.

Trends and sociodemographic patterning of active commuting
Dr Graham Baker and Dr Rebecca Pillinger, University of Edinburgh

This project looks at levels of active commuting (walking and cycling) to work and study in Scotland, and how active travel differs according to socio-demographic factors linked with health inequalities. The study includes an economic assessment of the health benefits of walking and cycling using the World Health Organisation’s HEAT tool (Health Economic Assessment Tool).

This study uses Scotland’s Census 2001 and 2011 records protected by disclosure control, for all people who travel to work or a place of study.  This dataset is not linked to any other datasets.  

Understanding the interplay of geography and demographic characteristics in the diagnosis of eight common cancers: The NASCAR-CENSUS project
Dr Peter Murchie, University of Aberdeen

This project looks at how geography, affluence and deprivation affect cancer outcomes.

This study will use Scotland’s Census 2001 and 2011 data linked to health records for members of an existing health research cohort (the NASCAR study) made up of people diagnosed with one of eight common forms of cancer in the NHS Grampian health board area from 2007 to 2014.

Upcoming projects

The following projects have been approved to access custom census microdata through the Scottish National Safe Haven:

Developing a national learning health system for asthma
Dr Colin Simpson, University of Edinburgh

This project aims to describe and explain patterns of asthma care across general practices and population sub-groups in Scotland, and to understand the role of weather and exposure to pollution on asthma outcomes.

This study will use 2001 and 2011 census data for people registered at one of around 100 GP surgeries in Scotland. These census records are linked to health records, and to meteorological data associated with each person’s home and work or study postcode.

Childhood cognitive function and use of long-term care across the life course: Linking the Scottish Mental Survey 1947 to healthcare and administrative data.
Dr Matthew Iveson, University of Edinburgh

This project will investigate the association between early-life circumstances (cognitive ability and socioeconomic status) and the risk of entry into long-term care.

This study will use 2001 and 2011 census data for people who participated in the Scottish Mental Survey in 1947, at the age of 11. These census records will be linked to health records, birth and death records, and care use records.

Childhood cognitive function and later-life recovery: Linking the Scottish Mental Survey 1947 to healthcare and administrative data.
Dr Matthew Iveson, University of Edinburgh

This project will investigate the association between early-life circumstances (cognitive ability and socioeconomic status) and recovery from stroke or cardiovascular disease.

This study uses 2001 and 2011 census data for members of an existing research study who were born in 1936/7 and participated in the Scottish Mental Survey in 1947. These census records are linked to health records and birth and death records.

Predictors of mental ill health in mothers caring for a son or daughter with intellectual disabilities
Dr Deborah Kinnear, University of Glasgow

This study will investigate the prevalence and determinants of mental ill-health in mothers caring for a son or daughter with intellectual disabilities, both overall and at different stages of the caregiving trajectory.

This study uses 2011 census data for a sample of people who are recorded in the census as having a learning disability and living with their mother at the time of the 2011 census; their mothers; and a sample of similar women and children who do not have a learning disability, for comparison.  These census records are linked to health records and mortality data.

Sharing custom census microdata with approved researchers

For each approved research project to access census microdata, NRS are sharing the extract of census microdata with the lead researcher on the project, making the lead researcher’s institution a Joint Data Controller.

Legal gateway

NRS is allowed to share personal census data with researchers for research because of section 4.2 of the Census Act (1920), which enables the Registrar General for Scotland to authorise the analysis of census data.

Joint Data Control

For each project, NRS and the lead researcher’s institution have signed or will sign a Data Sharing Agreement making them Joint Data Controllers of the dataset for that project.  This means that NRS and the researcher make joint decisions about how the data can be processed, including:

  •  who can process the data
  •  what are acceptable purposes for processing the data
  •  how will the data be processed
  •  where can the data be accessed
  •  what can be released.

Decisions can only be made with the agreement of both NRS and the researcher. Either party can end the agreement at any time, and if so the dataset must be destroyed.

Responsibilities

We have agreed with researchers that the Data Protection Officer for NRS will take responsibility for reporting to the Information Commissioner’s Office any problems or incidents which might put the confidentiality of personal information at risk.

Data Processors

Each lead researcher also holds a legally binding Controller – Processor Contract with eDRIS (the NHS electronic Data Resource and Information Service), who act as a data processor by providing the Scottish National Safe Haven service and managing the secure transfer, linkage and storage of the data. This Controller–Processor Contract allows eDRIS to contract the physical storage of the data to the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre, a facility of the University of Edinburgh.

Retention

Each project has a set end date, agreed at the start of the project.  The data will be securely and confidentially destroyed on this end date, or as soon as it is longer required for the research project, whichever happens first.  Researchers may not retain custom census microdata for longer than five years.

Your rights as a data subject

The NRS Data Protection Officer is your point of contact for any concerns or questions about the confidentiality of your personal census data in the Secure Microdata Files from Scotland’s Census 2011.

You also have the right to report your concerns to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). For more information visit the ICO website.

The GDPR grants individual data subjects with certain rights, for example the right to access your own personal data, the right to rectify incorrect data, the right to have your data erased, the right to restrict what can be done with your data and the right to object to the use of your data. However, these rights do not apply to the use of personal data for scientific or historical research purposes or statistical purposes, where responding to these rights would prevent the research or statistical purpose from being achieved.  NRS and the researchers have agreed that the Secure Microdata Files may only be used for scientific or historical research purposes, and therefore these rights will not apply.

Personal census data is also exempt from Freedom of Information requests under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, and from Environmental Information requests, under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004.  This applies for 100 years after the data was collected.

We are not able to confirm whether or not your data is included in any particular census dataset, as this could put other peoples’ personal information at risk.

Changes to this privacy notice
We keep our privacy notices under regular review. This privacy notice was last updated on Friday 2 November, 2018.

Contact Information

NRS Data Protection Officer
HM General Register House
2 Princes Street
Edinburgh
EH1 3YY

Tel: 0131 535 1314

Email: dataprotection@nrscotland.gov.uk