Europeans scrap census altogether

BRIAN LILLEY, Parliamentary Bureau

, Last Updated: 4:22 PM ET

OTTAWA - While critics accuse the Harper government of pursuing a right-wing ideological agenda with its switch to a voluntary long-form census, many so-called “progressive” European countries are eliminating the census altogether.

Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark all use registry-based systems to track citizens from birth to death.

While the Scandinavian countries use central registries and periodic surveys to collect data on the population, Britain is looking at cancelling its census outright after the next survey in 2011.

Britain has taken a census every 10 years since 1801 with an exception for 1941 during the Second World War. The decision in Britain is partly driven by budgetary concerns but also due to concerns over accuracy.

Rather than a national headcount, Britain is looking for ways to gather data from existing public and private databases.

While the decision has its share of critics it has been endorsed by the respected Economist Magazine, “Rising labour mobility and the accelerating pace of societal change mean that information goes stale more quickly than ever.” In Germany, the government is looking to collect census data in 2011 from just 10% of the population but that too is causing controversy. Under the German plan the data collected would be stored alongside a personal index number that could result in privacy breaches.

The Conservative government has cited privacy concerns as one of the reasons for replacing a mandatory long-form census that asks dozens of personal questions with a voluntary long-form census.

The Scandinavian route may not be a method that would please privacy advocates. Each Norwegian is given a personal identification number that tracks them through the government system. Those personal numbers are also matched up to registration numbers for each dwelling in Norway.


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