Australian national census, which started on August, 9 and will continue to mid-September, has raised concerns over privacy as Australians are asked to fill their names and addresses.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) conducts census every five years (compared to the 10-year censuses of the UK and US). It is described as a “… snapshot of Australia, showing how our nation has changed over time, allowing us to plan for the future.”
The 2016 Census is conducted with some changes. No new questions have been added since the 2011 Census, which makes it easier to compare outcomes across both years. The big change the ABS is pushing in 2016 is the ongoing move to a more digital census. It is hoping 65% of households will complete the 2016 Census online, compared with 33% in 2011.
Another more controversial change in 2016 is the decision to retain names and addresses temporarily in order to link census results with other administrative data for research and policy assessment purposes.
Names and addresses will be stored for four years this year, another point of contention, as they have previously been stored for 18 months before being destroyed. During that time they are protected with both digital and physical safeguards. However, privacy groups and those concerned about the potential for government overreach have flagged worries.
ABS said that such census data have a real impact on the lives of Australians, from determining political representation through the distribution of electorates, to the allocation of government funding, as well as private investment based on projected demand for goods and services.
A social media campaign to boycott the name-and-address requirement of the Census has been started and gained a lot of supporters in the past few weeks.
The name-and-address boycotters include three senators, Nick Xenophon, and the Greens’ Scott Ludlum and Sarah Hanson-Young. A former deputy privacy commissioner Anna Johnston joined them. They had leave their names and addresses off the census.
Senator Xenophon said yesterday he would introduce legislation that made giving your name optional in the future.
But still it’s against Australian law. Those found to have provided false or misleading information on the Census face an $1800 fine. People who do not complete the survey by mid-September may face a fine of up to $180 per day until the form is returned.
Also Small Business Minister Michael McCormack earlier labelled the controversy "much ado about nothing"
. He said people already handed over more information when they logged into Facebook or signed up to a supermarket loyalty card - a claim that was rejected by Nick Xenophon.
As for privacy concerns related to potential system hacking, Chris Libreri, the general manager of the ABS’ Census and Statistical Network Division, said the ABS uses the same secure keys as Census systems in the UK, Canada and New Zealand, none of which have ever been successfully broken into.
Chris Libreri said the privacy concerns seemed to be having minimal impact. He said about two million people had completed the form online prior to Tuesday, with almost all providing their names and addresses.