CSO Code of Practice on Statistical Confidentiality
This Code of Practise relates to the protection of the confidentiality of the individual information relating to persons and undertakings collected by the Central Statistics Office (CSO).
The functions of the Office are set out in the Statistics Act, 1993:
"the collection, compilation, extraction and dissemination for statistical purposes of information relating to economic, social and general activities and conditions in the State".
To this end, the Office receives information on individual persons, households, business and other undertakings. This information is obtained either directly in statutory or voluntary inquiries or indirectly from the administrative records of public authorities.
All individual information obtained by the CSO is treated as strictly confidential. The information is used solely for statistical purposes.
Results are published in aggregate form and great care is taken to ensure that details relating to an identifiable person or undertaking are not inadvertently divulged.
This confidentiality is guaranteed by law.
The CSO is a separate Office attached to the Department of the Taoiseach. This underlines the complete independence of the office and its Director General in the discharge of their statistical duties.
The CSO operates under the provisions of the Statistics Act, 1993. This continues and reinforces the confidentiality provisions of the earlier statistical legislation and imposes heavy penalties for the misuse of information collected by the Office.
The Act explicitly provides that all information collected by the Office:
1. shall be used only for statistical compilation and analysis purposes;
2. shall not be disseminated, shown or communicated to any other person or body in a form which can be related to an identifiable person of undertaking except:
· with the written consent of that person or undertaking or the personal representative or next-of-kin of a deceased person;
· for the purposes of a prosecution for an offence under the Act;
· to Officers of Statistics in the course of their duties under the Act;
· for recording such information (on microfiche, electronic media, etc) solely for the use of the CSO under a contract which protects its confidentiality;
· in the forms of codes classifying undertakings listed in the administrative systems of other public authorities into economic activity and size (persons engaged) categories for statistical purposes.
Exceptionally, the 1993 Act provides that forms completed in the Censuses of Population undertaken since 1926 shall be publicly accessible one hundred years after the date of the relevant Census. These forms will be very valuable for genealogical and social research purposes. The forms for the 1901 and 1911 Censuses of Population - which were undertaken before the foundation of the State - are already accessible to the public in the National Archives.
These statutory statistical protection provisions are additional to:
· the obligations on the staff of the CSO under the Official Secrets Act, 1963 not to make unauthorised communications, directly or indirectly, about matters which come to their knowledge in the course of their official duties.
· the obligations on the CSO under the Data Protection Act, 1988 regarding the handling of personal data.
Limited Access to Individual Data
The Statistics Act, 1993 specifies the very limited circumstances, listed in the preceding section, in which identifiable information collected by the CSO may be divulged to another person or body.
The Act also allows individual data to be made available for statistical analysis purposes in such form that it cannot be directly or indirectly related to an identifiable person or undertaking. This is a standard practice internationally.
Legal Provisions also exist for the transmission of confidential statistical data in anonymised form to Eurostat - the Statistical Office of the EU - for the purpose of compiling aggregate Community statistics. This transmission is permitted under the terms of an EU Regulation that imposes the very stringent obligations on Eurostat to protect the confidentiality of the data provided.
Need for a Code of Practice
Although underpinned by law it is essential that respondents to statistical inquiries (and the persons or undertakings for which statistical information is obtained from administrative sources) are fully assured that the CSO protects the confidentiality of the particulars relating to them and that they are used only for statistical purposes. Unless people are certain that confidentiality guarantees are kept there would be little likelihood of high response by the public or business to CSO inquiries.
The CSO has a long-standing reputation for protecting the information it collects. Concerns about data protection are, however, increasing and it is vitally important that the CSO maintains the trust of all sectors of the community in this regard. This Code of Practice is intended to reinforce existing assurances.
Code of Practice
· This Code of Practice applies to all information collected by the CSO whether directly in compulsory (statutory) and voluntary statistical inquiries or indirectly from the administrative records of other public authorities.
· The information collected by the CSO is used only for statistical purposes.
· The confidentiality of information relating to identifiable persons and undertakings is protected at all stages of statistical operations: collection, storage, processing and dissemination.
· The computer files that contain the results of surveys do not, in general, contain the names or addresses of respondents. Limited exceptions are made, however, when there are strong statistical reasons for doing so.
· In the case of external trade statistics the CSO will, on the request of any importer or exporter, suppress the publication of information that reveals details of its business (the passive confidentiality approach).
· Stringent precautions are actively taken in disseminating all other statistical results to ensure that particulars relating to identifiable persons or undertakings are not inadvertently disclosed unless written permission is obtained (the active confidentiality approach). For example, in the case of business statistics, published information is based on a minimum number of three respondents and then only when one or two of the three do not have too dominant a share of the total.
· Office and field staff appointed to the CSO sign a Declaration of Secrecy specified in the Statistics Act, 1993 and are fully instructed on their obligations to protect the confidentiality of any identifiable information to which they have access.
· High security is maintained on the CSO computer network. Authorised access within the Office to computer files containing confidential data is strictly limited and controlled by a system of personal/section passwords that are regularly updated.
· Information relating to identifiable persons or undertakings may only be provided to a non-CSO person or body in the limited cases specified in the Statistics Act, 1993.
· Confidential information is transferred only in anonymous form to the Statistical Office of the EU (Eurostat) for the compilation of aggregate Community statistics under the protective provisions of Council Regulation 1588/90.