In this section you can find out more about how we protect the confidentiality of census data and ensure transparency and confidence in all that we do.

(NB For information on Scotland’s Census 2022, including a link to the first version of the Scotland’s Census 2022 Privacy Impact Assessment, visit the Privacy in Scotland’s Census 2022 page)


In all of our work, we fully recognise the importance of privacy and confidentiality. All work undertaken as part of Scotland’s Census is governed by various statutory requirements including the Census Act 1920, the data protection legislation, and the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. Our work depends upon the participation of individuals: and as a result, the maintenance and preservation of their privacy underpins everything that we do. Individuals responding to the census need to know that their information will be safe and secure, who will have access to it and how it will be used. We adhere to guidelines laid down by the Information Commissioner’s Office

Relevant Legislation

Access to census data that can identify households or individuals is strictly controlled. The Census Act 1920 made it a criminal offence to unlawfully disclose confidential census data. The Census (Confidentiality) Act 1991 extended this to people and businesses working as part of the census. Anyone who unlawfully discloses census data can be fined up to £10,000 or sent to prison for up to two years, or both.
It is important to note that no one can get personal census data through a Freedom of Information request. This is set out in sections 38 and 58 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, which states that personal census data is exempt from disclosure for 100 years.
Data protection legislation controls how organisations can use the personal data they hold. Everyone who collects personal data must follow strict rules to keep that data safe and use it fairly, lawfully and transparently.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) sets out the key principles, rights and obligations for most processing of personal data. You can find more information about data protection on the website of the Information Commissioner's Office.

The 2011 Census

All personal information collected in the 2011 Census is processed in Scotland. All census staff are trained how to handle personal information and they gave a written commitment to confirm they understood it is a criminal offence to break the confidentiality of personal census details.

We securely wiped or destroyed (or both) all data storage equipment used during the census to ensure no personal information could be retrieved. Independent checks make sure these processes met UK government standards. We also securely destroyed all the returned paper questionnaires. To find out more about our security procedures, see 'Protecting your data’

Everyone’s answers are combined and analysed to produce anonymised (with personal details removed) national and local statistics.

The privacy of personal census information and the protective safeguards implemented by NRS for the 2011 Census are documented in this report - January 2011 Considerations of the Impact on Public Privacy of Scotland’s Census

For more information please see our Frequently Asked Questions.