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May 12, 2021

Census ‘too invasive’ says Pirate Party

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The Pirate Party has called on the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to make tomorrow’s controversial census question, which asks for names and addresses, optional.

The 2016 census will collect identifying information of all those surveyed, but the party has branded it ‘invasive’ and a breach of privacy.

‘The ABS has not properly consulted with the Australian public on this new, more invasive version of the Census,’ Australian Pirate Party president Simon Frew told Echonetdaily.

‘Despite the serious privacy concerns first raised by the Pirate Party in March,1 and now shared by thousands of Australians as well as the Greens, Nick Xenophon and Andrew Wilkie, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has continued to forge ahead with the invasive 2016 Census,’ Mr Frew said.

‘For the first time the ABS is planning to keep names for four years, linking very personal information asked by the Census questionnaire,’ he said.

‘Like many, the Pirate Party has raised objections to the collection of identifying information, and now calls on the ABS to declare the giving of “Name” and “Address” optional.

‘Names are not required by law according to former Australian Statistician Bill McLennan,2 and it is difficult to see how names could help with statistical analysis.

‘Collecting names does, however, increase the danger of privacy breaches for Australian citizens which, given the ABS has been subject to 14 data breaches in the last three years,3 is particularly concerning.

‘A simple way for the ABS put many Australians at ease is to make it optional for people to give their names and address.

‘Social media has exploded with people requesting additional details from the ABS on how the data will be stored, the ability for data to be de-anonymised and their strict legal obligations with regard to providing correct information, and the ABS’s responses have been remarkably cagey, always skirting around giving clear answers to clear questions.

‘Even with regard to the four-year limitation for storage of names, the ABS has made it clear that they will be connecting census data to other data sources, but has not made it clear whether the other data will also include names.

‘If that is the case, then any destruction of Census name data would be irrelevant.

‘Issues of security seem to be plaguing the ABS. The website has poor security reports, and collects metadata as well as IP information if forms are completed online.5

‘The ABS field agents will be using their own personal devices and an app6 to relay private data to the office, and the best security assurance that David Kalisch can give us regarding future hacking threats is that they’ve not been hacked in the past,7 Mr Frew continued.

‘This does not bode well for the secure handling of the very sensitive private data that the Census aims to collect.

‘The most frustrating aspect of the cavalier approach to privacy on display by the ABS is the damage done to the Bureau’s own reputation.

‘The data published by the ABS is important to understanding the country and supports evidence-based policy development.

‘Through this pig-headed refusal to acknowledge legitimate privacy concerns, they are undermining their own data by destroying the trust required for Australian people to give them their private information.

‘People concerned with having their names linked to all of the private data collected by the census should request paper forms and leave the name fields blank to protest and register their disgust.

‘However, in order to avoid paying fines, everyone has until September 23 to provide the missing data if the ABS follows it up.

‘The Pirate Party hopes that the ABS sees sense and does not follow up on those in the Australian community who are privacy-conscious,’ Mr Frew said.

  1. https://pirateparty.org.au/2016/03/21/pirate-party-calls-for-census-boycott-due-to-privacy-concerns/
  2. https://www.privacy.org.au/Papers/ABS-Census_2016_and_Privacy_v8.pdf
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/jul/29/australian-bureau-of-statistics-reports-14-data-breaches-since-2013?CMP=share_btn_tw
  4. https://twitter.com/peter_tonoli/status/758608053251866624
  5. http://help.census.abs.gov.au/privacy
  6. https://twitter.com/ABSCensus/status/759367889027641344
  7. http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2016/s4513082.htm



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  1. Laili,
    You must know more than the journalists who wrote the article and the editor who checked the article.
    “The Pirate Party has called on the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to make tomorrow’s controversial census question, which asks for names and addresses, optional.”

  2. Oops should’ve double checked that! It was the 99 year thing I read. It’s question 60 and it just gives you the option to allow your information to be kept in archives to be released in 99 years or not. The ABS still keep your information regardless.

  3. The problem I see with completing the census and omitting name/address is that it would take very little effort for the ABS to fill that in for you from publicly available information like voter registration details. I’m not sure if they would or even if it would be legal, but considering that they are trying to force people to give their details through threats of coercion you cannot rule anything out.

    I understand that certain threats mean that we have to forgo some measure of privacy, but the Government has meta-data retention laws, centrelink and medicare profiles, the National Facial Recognition Hub, roadside number plate scanners, the aborted e-Health system and the “stingray” technology that is being deployed by some police forces across Australia.

    To think that another Abbott-esque government on either side of the political spectrum would hesitate for a moment to introduce legislation to open up the ABS information seems just a little bit hopeful.

    It doesn’t matter if you have nothing to hide, wanting to have a bit data privacy is no different to closing your blinds at night, for many people it provides comfort and a feeling of security and no government has the right to threaten that.

    “There is no such thing as paranoia. Your worst fears can come true at any moment.”

    Hunter S. Thompson

  4. The issue of privacy with the ABS and the 2016 census is one thing- though the fact that the federal government spent $470 million on a census that will likely be deemed invalid due to privacy issues that were not addressed- is another.

    Government planning and researchers using census data will have to note that it is basically invalid. $10 million was spent on the online census system that crashed and was hacked. Meanwhile Malcom Turnbull wants to cut $4.40 per week from Newstart allowance Centrelink payments and the family tax benefit will be cut for parents when their child turns 13 years-old.

    It seems that something is not right with the system here.

    Birralee Paitson


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