The CBS operates by the power of the Statistics Ordinance (New Version), 5732 - 1972. The Statistics Ordinance defines the mission of the Central Bureau of Statistics, the manner in which it works, the public's obligation to provide information to the CBS, the CBS's obligation regarding the safeguarding of the confidentiality of information received, and the CBS's obligation to publish the results of its activities.
In addition to the Statistics Ordinance, the CBS also operates in accordance with the rules of ethics. These rules are based on the understanding that it is the role of the CBS to collect, process and publish statistical information on the population, the society and the economy, as well as on other fields in Israel.
The obligation to respond to CBS surveys
In order to collect the data required for conducting a modern economy, and in order to provide suitable representation for all the individuals in the population, the CBS requests people, businesses and public bodies to provide it with information. The law, which recognized this vital need, obligates the citizens to cooperate with the CBS, under Sections 11 to 15a of the Statistics Ordinance (New Version), 5732 - 1972.
This ordinance provides the CBS with the authority to obligate the public to provide it with the information it requires in order to conduct the statistical activities it performs. Any person or body that refuses to provide the required information commits a criminal act according to Section 22 of the law, in which "a person guilty of an offence under this Ordinance, for which no other penalty is determined, is liable to imprisonment for a term of three months".
The CBS’s obligation to safeguard the confidentiality of the data
Parallel to the public’s obligation to provide the CBS information, and with the aim of ensuring that no personal details be disclosed as a result, the law states that the CBS is forbidden to transmit to any other authority any datum that makes it possible to identify the individual providing it. For this reason the law obligates the CBS to safeguard every datum that it receives in absolute confidentiality. Therefore, the CBS invests great efforts in order to safeguard the confidentiality of the data it receives.
In order to ensure absolute protection of personal details provided by citizens, the law also states that in addition to its obligating the CBS to safeguard the confidentiality of the data that make it possible to identify an individual, data supplied to the CBS cannot serve as evidence against a citizen nor as evidence in court; i.e., even if information provided by a citizen to the CBS was leaked, whether through accident or negligence, the courts are ordered to ignore it.
Does the Statistics Ordinance contradict the freedom of the individual?
From the article by Prof. Shlomo Yitzhaki, the former Government Statistician
For purposes of the surveys it conducts, the Central Bureau of Statistics selects randomly a sample of households in Israel, and the Statistics Ordinance obligates those households to provide the CBS information regarding many aspects of life which ordinarily are solely the business of the individual. Modern society regards the freedom of the individual a supreme value which must be protected. In Israel this right is based on the Basic Law: Human Rights and Freedoms, where Section 7 states:
a. Every person has a right to his/her privacy.
b. It is forbidden to enter a person's territory without his/her consent.
c. It is forbidden to conduct a search in a person's territory, a search on his/her body or a search of his/her possessions.
d. It is forbidden to violate the confidentiality of a person's speech, writings or recordings.
The rights of the individual are a supreme value, but not an absolute one. Sometimes it is pitted against other values, related to the greater good of society.
The size of the sample in CBS surveys is determined as the minimal size required to make it possible to present reliable data. An individual in this type of sample, whether a person or a business, represents an entire group of individuals who were not included in the sample, that resemble him in their demographic, social and economic characteristics. A refusal by an individual selected for the sample to answer the questions put to him harms his representation and the representation of other citizens he was chosen to represent. Thus, for example, a citizen that refused to participate in a household expenditures survey prevents himself and others that he represents the influence on the composition of a household consumer basket, which constitutes a basis for determining the Consumer Price Index, the value of monthly rent, etc.
Regarding the harm to the citizen’s representation of himself, it could be argued that a person’s wishes should be respected and that an individual’s decision should be honoured. On the other hand, the harm done by an individual to others, his prevention of them being represented by his refusal to participate, can not be justified by the principle of the freedom of the individual, since this freedom is a supreme value only as long as the freedom of others is not violated. This harm by an individual to others is an additional explanation to why the law obligates citizens to respond to CBS surveys.
It is possible to forgive selfishness when it does not harm others but not when it harms others and prevents their representation in data which are used to examine the influence of government policy and the implications of government and private planning on the general population.
In conclusion, the good of the society and democracy necessitates that the data supplied by the CBS to the citizens and the governing institutions will be correct. In order not to bother the entire population, a sample chosen to represent the general population is used. The people selected for the sample are given the privilege to represent people in society that are similar to them. Those who refuse to take this opportunity and do not cooperate with the CBS actually harm the representation of those citizens they have been chosen to represent. In order to prevent this damage to the representation of other citizens, the law obliges those selected in the sample to reply to questions. Therefore, a non-response is regarded as a criminal offence.
In order to protect those people from the public that were chosen to provide data, the legislature determined that the data published by the CBS would not make it possible to identify the person who provided them. The legislature cared for the good of the public while protecting the rights of the individual.