The 2011 Census

Securing the Census for ONS and NISRA

The questionnaire for the 2011 census contained questions over 32 pages, for up to six people in the household. In all, around 60 million people, their residences, employment, ethnicity, religion (voluntary) and other matters are recorded. After collation and analysis, the resulting statistics inform government policies and funding allocations for years to come. For example, the statistics will help reveal the demographic information that will influence funding for councils, hospitals and other public bodies.

The Challenge

The Census is a mammoth exercise. To give a sense of scale, it involved sending out over 30 million forms – enough to fill 240 42-tonne lorries. There was a secure website for people filling in the form online. Around 35,000 enumerators offered assistance to help people, ensuring that the forms were returned. Scanning the handwritten forms would take about 12 months, with scanners working 24-hours-a-day. Then the data has to be analysed – a process that will take several years with the first results becoming available in mid-summer 2012.

Our Answer

First, we defined what needed protection – from paper and data to business processes and physical locations – for every party in the LMUK consortium. This was undertaken in consultation with ONS, NISRA and other government specialists.

Then we quantified the security implications of any security event or combination of events on what was being protected, ranking them from negligible to very high, from that, we worked out how things could go wrong.

For example:

  • technology – viruses, Trojan horses, worms, failures, programming defects
  • Physical – burglary, fire, flood, power failure
  • People – making mistakes or breaking rules.

A Success Story

Four high-speed scanners made their way through millions of forms at a secure location in Manchester, where authorised personnel will interpret any handwriting that cannot be interpreted by the electronic systems. Data has been backed up and encrypted. Paper forms, once scanned and confirmed, will be securely destroyed.


Our consultants have worked with governments and corporations around the world to design and implement security in many sensitive programmes and locations. We are recognised as the leading security consultancy and we employ more than 400 full time security experts in the UK alone.

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