Germany's parliament has cleared the way for the first census in decades. The tally isn't expected to provoke storms of protest as it did in the past. But it could show that there are fewer people in the country.
Statisticians think there may be over a million fewer people in Germany
The census will begin in 2011, the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, decided on Thursday, Sept. 21. This time, though, officials won't be knocking on the doors of each and every one of the estimated 82 million German residents. Instead, they will focus their queries on around 6 million people as well as the country's 17.5 million property owners. They will be asked their place of birth, age, gender, nationality and marital status as well as questions about their household, working life and education.
Germany's current population statistics are extrapolations based on the last censuses. The country's statisticians think there may actually be 1.3 million fewer people living in Germany in total and around half a million fewer foreigners than official calculations say.
The preparatory legislation on the census passed with the votes of the two government parties, the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, in the Bundestag, while the Green party and the free-market liberal FDP abstained.
Data protection czar unconcerned
FDP politician Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a former federal justice minister, said she and her colleagues thought the details of the census had not yet been adequately clarified.
"We don't want to issue a carte blanche as long as these questions are still open," the Süddeutsche Zeitung daily quoted her as saying.
The Left party opposed the bill. Its domestic expert, Jan Korte, said the data collected would not be secure and that it was unclear how it would be used, according to the paper.
However, Germany's data protection czar, Peter Schaar, said the census plans were in line with the constitution and would not unnecessarily intrude on citizens' privacy rights.
Internet opens doors to census
Nowadays people are less concerned about leaving a trace
The last census took place in 1987 in West Germany and in 1981 in East Germany. The West German census was accompanied by calls for boycott from people who were concerned the tally would lead the way to a surveillance state. Census takers were tasked with collected data from all German residents.
Little resistance is expected this time around: With the widespread use of credit cards and the Internet, Germans generally find it acceptable to allow freer access to their personal data.
Germany's highest court has also ruled that informants' family names must be deleted from the data as soon as possible. All census information that could make residents recognizable must be erased when it is no longer needed by the statisticians.
Berlin's plans for a new census will ensure it complies with European Union requirements. Both the EU and Germany use population levels to determine the amount of subsidies regions receive as well as numbers of political representatives.
The census is expected to cost around 450 million euros ($630 million).