France has a law forbidding the collection of sexual, ethnic, political, religuous, citizen information. Are there other nations where it is impossible to conduct a census or know information about religious, cultural or ethnic attributes of the population?

article 6 of Law n ° 78-17 of January 6, 1978" Data processing and freedoms " [ 3 ] , [ 4 ] according to which:

"It is prohibited to process personal data which reveals the alleged racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical convictions or trade union membership of a citizen or to process genetic data, biometric data for the purpose of uniquely identifying a natural person, data relating to health or data relating to the sexual life or sexual orientation of a natural person ” .

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    The source of the quote is unclear. Article 8 (not article 6) of ACT N°78-17 OF 6 JANUARY 1978 uses similar wording.
    – Rick Smith
    Dec 6, 2021 at 14:59
  • From a wiki page here: fr.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. Dec 6, 2021 at 17:37
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    I think you may be misreading the law. (Though I haven't checked the original, having even less liking for French legalese than English.) It seems more of a privacy provision: bulk data could be collected, but it would have to be anonomized so that particular individuals couldn't be identified.
    – jamesqf
    Dec 6, 2021 at 18:03
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    @LifeInTheTrees: Could be, I'm certainly not an avocat :-) I just find it curious that a quick search turns up plenty of examples of the sorts of bulk data mentioned in the quote.
    – jamesqf
    Dec 7, 2021 at 4:36
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    A thorough article by Le Monde states: it's impossible to know the true numbers because of the law, the precision can vary 50-200%, the article quotes various rare studies which probably applied to the government for some kind of special exemption, it quotes estimates by Ipsos Mori, a foreign market research company that does international phone calls and can avoid some of the legal requirements. lemonde.fr/les-decodeurs/article/2015/01/21/… Dec 7, 2021 at 4:50

1 Answer 1


In the United States, there are a number of statutes that prohibit the collection of various pieces of information (e.g. sexual orientation) for certain purposes or by certain actors. But it is not prohibited in the general sense for all actors, nor is it illegal for a person to disclose that information voluntarily.

The types of protected information are known in the United States as protected, or 'suspect' classes. Not all of them are prohibited (e.g. nation of origin), because there are corner cases where the collection of such data is actually mandated by other portions of the law - but the collection of such data automatically arouses suspicion as to the motive behind the effort - hence the term 'suspect class.'

Per comments, here are some examples:

1964 Civil Rights Act

(i) a complaining party demonstrates that a respondent uses a particular employment practice that causes a disparate impact on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin and the respondent fails to demonstrate that the challenged practice is job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity; or

Asking a question on a job application or as part of an interview process constitutes an 'employment practice' in this context, and thus - unless there's a legitimate business reason to ask the question - it's a simple matter of statistics to show that asking the question creates the effect. Elsewhere in the same statute the excuse that, e.g. race wasn't the sole factor is pre-empted: if it can be shown that (e.g.) race was considered at all then the whole practice is unlawful.

Similarly the ADA (as amended in 1990) explicitly prohibits employers from asking questions likely to reveal a disability status (again, except where actual job performance concerns are at issue) (emphasis added):

§ 1630.13 Prohibited medical examinations and inquiries.

(a) Pre-employment examination or inquiry. Except as permitted by § 1630.14, it is unlawful for a covered entity to conduct a medical examination of an applicant or to make inquiries as to whether an applicant is an individual with a disability or as to the nature or severity of such disability.

I expect that you'll find similar provisions in a number of other nations to a lesser or greater degree.

  • @EkadhSingh-ReinstateMonica Done Dec 6, 2021 at 15:15
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    Thanks William! that's interesting! The French law is all encomassing, so that it's not possible to have any information about the religious or ethnic cultures of the nation's population, i.e. it's illegal to conduct a census which will say that France is 40% atheist, 5% protestant 40%catholic and 15% buddhist, so i'm curious if there are other nations which can't census the culture of their own population. Dec 6, 2021 at 17:45
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    True, but at the same time the US requires companies to track employee ethnicities for purposes, among others, of following rules in the EEO - i.e. the idea is that you can only tell that company X under-promotes minorities if you are able to analyze its employment patterns by minority. Dec 6, 2021 at 18:55
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica As I said: "Not all of them are prohibited (e.g. nation of origin), because there are corner cases where the collection of such data is actually mandated by other portions of the law" Dec 6, 2021 at 19:12

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