UKREN blog

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Symposium on equality data collection 24-25 October 2013, Brussels


Data are often used by companies and governments to control and monitor individuals. While European States are discussing how to better protect citizens’ privacy, it is important to keep in mind that data, as long as collected in a way compatible with data protection standards, can be used to ensure citizens’ human rights. Indeed, discrimination often goes unnoticed and unreported. Without reliable disaggregated equality data, it is hard to measure inequalities and design policies accordingly, or even to prove to lawmakers and employers that differential treatment exists and needs to be addressed. In the UK we have more extensive and detailed equality data than most of the other Member States although even this is currently under review as the UK government looks at ways to provide cheaper substitutes to the Census and a number of other surveys.

In order to address some of the key questions about extending the collection of equality data, ENAR and the Open Society Foundations organised a Symposium on Equality Data Collection. The aim was to look at ways to ensure that comparable sets of equality data are collected by Member States in respect to EU data protection safeguards, and in order to support equality, social inclusion, and non-discrimination policies.

Gay Moon, Chair of UKREN, attended this symposium as a member of the ENAR steering group on equality data collection.  She noted that some of the key concerns were     

  • how to ensure that data collection is sufficiently anonymised to protect individuals,
  • how to ensure that data was not misused,
  • how to ensure that data protection legislation is complied with,
  • how to collect data about groups within groups (multiple discrimination),
  • whether to limit data collection to race and ethnic origin (and disability) alone or to seek for data on all prohibited grounds,
  • whether to limit data collection to the employment field only, and
  • how to encourage or require all the Member States to collect comparable data.

Wilf Sullivan, Treasurer of UKREN, reported on the role of data collection in the UK in the employment context. He pointed out that starting from the early 1980s ethnic minority people were demanding that ethnic monitoring was done as a way of proving that discrimination was occurring. Ethnic monitoring started in public authorities and also in other places when public money was spent. It helped trades unions to seek changes in workplace practices which were discriminatory in their effect.  It also led unions to review and change their own practices to ensure that they were not discriminatory.  He commented that whilst data security is exceedingly important people should perhaps bear in mind how much information they freely make available on Facebook! He noted the importance of

  • confidentiality and coded collection,
  • informing people why data was being collected and what use would be made of it, and
  • that the results should be transparent.

He also commented that the collection of data is becoming an issue again within the UK as it is seen as being too onerous and costly, particularly when an increasing amount of public services are contracted out to the private sector.

Link to Open Society Briefing on equality data - http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/voices/making-big-data-work-equality-0

Link to ENAR briefing on data collection - http://www.enargywebzine.eu/spip.php?article278&lang=en

ENAR is continuing to work on resolving some of the problems around Equality Data Collection and will be producing a full report in due course.

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