US defence contractor Lockheed Martin has been awarded the £150m contract to manage the 2011 Census in the UK. Lockheed, which was competing with T-Systems for the bid, ran the 2001 Census. The bid process wasn’t without incident; early doubts around the reliability of automated document scanning systems, and the feasibility of online or even SMS return of Census forms had to be addressed through technology trials, and Lockheed was challenged after claims that the Census data would be subject to the US Patriot Act and might therefore have to be disclosed if the US government demanded so.
The Census has always been seen as the epitome of best practice in personal data management: its entire model depends upon individuals trusting the government not to misuse the data provided, otherwise mass dissent would follow (i.e. even more than us turning into a nation of Jedi Knights). The Office of National Statistics has always had an extremely good reputation for respecting personal data, particularly relative to certain other public sector bodies, so it will be interesting to see how they face up to the challenge of maintaining that reputation now that public awareness of data loss incidents has peaked.