What is the official statistical system allowed to do? What does it do?
The preparation of ethnic-based statistics is strictly controlled from a legal point of view. First, by the 1978 Act on "Information technology and freedoms", then in 2007 by a decision of the Constitutional Council.
What is not allowed
In its decision of 15 November 2007, the Constitutional Council forbade the processing of data necessary for carrying out studies regarding diversity which infringe the principle laid down in Article 1 of the Constitution.
As a result, the following were prohibited :
- the processing of data of a personal nature indicating directly or indirectly the racial or ethnic origins of persons.
- the introduction of variables of race or religion in administrative records. This applied to the National directory for the identification of natural persons.
In its commentary, the Constitutional Council stipulated that the a priori definition of an "ethno-racial classification" would be contrary to the Constitution.
What the official statistical system is allowed to do
In the commentary to its decision, the Constitutional Council also specified that the official statistical system (INSEE and the Ministerial Statistical Departments) may carry out studies of diversity of origin, discrimination and integration, but these must be based on objective data, such as a person's name, geographic origin or nationality before adopting French nationality.
However, these objective data are not the only data that can be used in statistical studies. The Constitutional Council pointed out that subjective data, such as that based on the "feeling of belonging", can also be collected in statistical surveys, and used in the resulting studies.
In both cases, the official statistical system must ask the opinion of the National Council of Statistical Information (CNIS), declare the survey to the French Data Protection Authority (CNIL) and obtain their authorisation, if necessary (article 25 of the 1978 Act). Like all data collected for official statistics, data collected in this context are anonymised and subject to statistical confidentiality (Act of 1951 on legal obligation, coordination and confidentiality in the field of statistics).
What the official statistical system does
Like the statistical institutes in all the other European countries, the official French system regularly produces, and has done so for a long time, statistics which include a person's country of birth, nationality at birth and current nationality. By crossing country of birth with nationality at birth it is possible to tell whether a person is an immigrant (a foreigner born abroad and resident in France) or not.
Surveys include: population census, employment survey, family budget survey, etc.
In some of these surveys, interviewees are also asked for the country of birth and nationality at birth of their parents. From these responses the descendants of immigrants can be ascertained.
INSEE and the ministerial statistical departments carry out surveys of subjective data such as the "feeling of belonging" much less frequently.
In 2009, INSEE in association with INED carried out a survey on the impact of origins on living standards and social trajectories, "Trajectories and Origins" (TeO).
In the questionnaire for this survey there were questions on feelings of discrimination, feelings of belonging and religion. For all these questions, respondents were informed that they could refuse to reply.
From all the data collected, whether objective or subjective on the feeling of belonging, many studies were produced on the diversity of people's situations.