Editorial

Brits concerned about what Government will do with Census data

A quarter of people questioned are concerned their data could be used to track their location during lockdown. Forty-one percent think there is a risk that their personal data will be stolen in a nation-state cyberattack…

Posted 25 March 2021 by

A significant proportion of people in the UK are concerned about how the Government will use and store the data it collects from the 2021 Census.

According to a study released today by security analytics company by Exabeam and conducted by YouGov, 48 percent feel they are not well informed about how the Government will use their personal information. This rises to 61 percent when asked how informed they feel about storage of that data.

More than a quarter of respondents (26 percent) are concerned about how Census data will be used, rising to 35 percent concerned when asked about how data will be stored (10 percent are very concerned about how it is stored.

In addition, 25 percent of respondents are concerned that the data provided could be used to track their location during COVID-19 lockdown. A greater number (37 percent) are not confident in the government’s ability to keep their data safe from cybercriminals. Forty-one percent think there is a risk that their personal data will be stolen in a nation-state cyberattack.

According to Action Fraud, incidences of government impersonation scams increased dramatically over the last year, including those around national insurance and the COVID-19 vaccine roll out. 

“The findings of this survey suggest that that not only should the Government continue to communicate with the public regarding the safe storage and use of their personal data even after they have submitted their Census responses, but that communications need to be far more accessible and digestible for the general public,” said Exabeam in a statement.

The ONS Census 2021 Independent Information Assurance Public Report, which is available on request from the ONS Chief Security Office, provides a detailed view of the governance and assessments carried out ahead of Census 2021. However, but fails to communicate the findings in a way most non-security practitioners would find easy to understand. As such, any subsequent data breaches relating to the Census may negatively impact the willingness of people in the UK to participate in online data gathering processes in the future.

Exabeam also argues that the Government must also continue to invest in solutions which minimise the risk of security breaches that originate inside public sector organisations. It argues that access control will be crucial, not only to prevent data breaches from malicious insiders with criminal intent, but to prevent anyone being given unintentional access due to software or permission errors.

“The Census represents a huge effort to compile and store personal data, including sensitive issues such as gender, sexual orientation and some health data. As such, it is a vital tool for future national government strategy planning, but also a potential gold mine for would-be attackers and therefore a major security and privacy risk,” said Samantha Humphries, head of security strategy EMEA at Exabeam.

“While in many cases, respondents expressed confidence and a lack of concern, this survey highlights a real problem of awareness in how the Government stores and uses census data, as well as concerns from a significant proportion of the public around their ability to protect it. People need to have full confidence in the process and that work doesn’t stop when people have clicked ‘submit’ on their Census response.”