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US spooks won't get UK census access

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US spooks will not get access to English and Welsh census information even if the census contract is won by US defence firm Lockheed Martin.

Treasury Minister Angela Eagle told the Treasury Select Committee yesterday that the data would be kept safe.

There are two companies still bidding for the £450m contract - T-Systems, part of Deutsche Telekom, and Lockheed Martin. The US "Patriot Act" gives the secret service access to private information held by US corporations. Last year the Green Party called for a boycott of a census trial involving Lockheed Martin because of its controversial defence work.

Eagle told MPs there was no evidence the Patriot Act has been used against non-US based companies. Eagle said: "We've received legal advice that there is no risk that that would happen." UK firms are expected to carry out the actual census.

It is not clear whether any information would even go to the US. According to the Beeb Eagle said: "Some of the arrangements that would be made would ensure that data was owned and kept within the UK."

She was asked if there was a clause in the contract to prevent information being sent out of the UK at all. She said she would reply by confidential letter.

2011, the date of the next census, is likely to be the UK's last - the Office of National Statistics is considering other options. Originally the government's ID card scheme was meant to provide similar information - but it now isn't clear how that plan will pan out. The ONS had suggested a national address database - with compulsory registration - to provide more up-to-date information than that from the ten-year census.

Ms Eagle told the BBC: "People in the UK are suspicious of anyone that tries to make lists.

"The issue of ID cards hasn't exactly been non-controversial - and it wouldn't be non-controversial to people to have a national address register, I'll be bound."

It seems likely that the US secret service has lots of better ways to get more up-to-date information than that provided by the census - either through their snooping network Echelon or through their contacts with British spooks. Although admittedly you would need access to census information to track the 390,000 Jedis living in England and Wales. ®

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